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How to be a lawyer and still take a holiday

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Cite as: (2002) 76(11) LIJ, p.34

The trouble with being a lawyer is that to be truly successful you have to become indispensable. The trouble with being indispensable is that you can’t take a holiday. However, if you undergo some basic preparation, you’ll soon be indistinguishable from the rest of the summer holidaymakers. By Elisabeth Wentworth

The more upwardly mobile you are the more reluctant you are to acknowledge that you need a break. And yet a good holiday at least once a year is an essential aid to surviving the pressures of legal life and emerging from the crushing cocoon of lawyerdom as a fully-fledged human being.

There seem to be five basic barriers to the taking of a decent holiday. They are:

1. fear of what will happen if you go on leave;

2. difficulty in downing the tools of legal life;

3. inability to holiday without the presence of other lawyers;

4. susceptibility to infection once leave has been taken; and

5. inappropriate holiday reading matter.

Most lawyers approach a holiday with a mixture of awe and terror. Awe at the prospect of what to do without a dictaphone in your hand and horror at the prospect that someone else will look at your files while you are away.

One of the greatest difficulties that lawyers have on holiday is facing the fact that they might meet people who are not lawyers. This is why lawyers on holiday tend to congregate in resorts for jaded professionals, or travel overseas only to go to a law conference. By the way, the latter tendency must be crushed in its infancy – do not, whatever you do, ever get into the habit of going to law conferences instead of taking a proper holiday. Leaving the warm secure cocoon of the legal fraternity is a little like leaving home – if you haven’t done it by the time you are 40, chances are you will never do it and then where will you be? Apart from anything else lawyers en vacance are not usually a pretty sight and legal conferences can be very disturbing for your visual senses. The above does not apply of course if you are an invited speaker and your air fares, accommodation and transfer costs are paid by the organisers.

If downing the tools of the trade is your problem, remember that getting away from it all means getting out of the habit of saying “I’ll call you back”. Inability to let go of the mobile phone is a positive barrier to relaxation. You will find yourself avoiding a beach holiday because sand might get in the buttons. Sitting by the pool might be OK providing you do not object to your children doing belly flops and bombs to get your attention when you have answered the fiftieth call for the morning.

Then, of course, there is the fear of what will happen if you do relax. If you do not practise first there is the danger that if your adrenaline levels drop even for a moment all those vicious little microbes that have been beating their heads against the brick wall of your adrenaline-fortified resistance will push once and with a cry of “Once more through the breach chaps!” bring you down with all sorts of yucky viruses. And they will do it just when you have put your head down on your designer towel on the beach at the Club Med resort you so carefully chose. And there won’t be a real doctor for five or so islands. And the “all-you-can-eat caviar” will be wasted in a spectacularly embarrassing fashion.

All these things can be very bad for you and those you love.

TIPS FOR THE OFFICE-BOUND – HOW TO TAKE LEAVE AND STILL BE A LAWYER

Taking a holiday is a little like drinking a very good bottle of wine, or, for the recent graduates among you, a very large bottle of alcoholic lemonade. You have to approach it with a mixture of reverence and determination. You cannot have anything else on your mind or the effect will be wasted. And you certainly should never stop half way through to call the office.

Step 1. Asking for time off

Do this firmly, maintaining eye contact at all times. Watch your body language – a relaxed but upright posture is best. Never ask for leave on your knees. Do not be apologetic. Having gained approval, do not fall sobbing to the floor crying, “Oh thank you, thank you, thank you!” onto your boss’s neatly cuffed trouser leg or $30 French stockings. With superb composure say something light-hearted but pertinent such as “Cool”.

Step 2. Training for travel

Being relaxed takes practice. Begin by putting your mobile phone down. Effective ways of doing so include staring coldly at it and saying “You’re past it, old boy!”. Next, bring your favourite beach towel into work. When you feel yourself getting tense, gently spread your towel out on the floor, sprinkle a little sand around it, burn some coconut oil in a vaporiser and lie down for half an hour under a bright lamp.

If your problem is that you are correspondence co-dependent and unable to rest unless you have access to your emails, you will have to make up your mind to engage the “out of office” button on your email tools. This will be stressful in the short term because it will require you to actually acknowledge that you are going on leave, but once you have made that acknowledgment everything else will seem easy.

Step 3. Getting away

In order to get the most from your holiday it is important to try to forget you are a lawyer. Adopting a nom de vacance is a great way of achieving that transformation you so crave. You may even be able to live out a few harmless fantasies in the process. Why not be Ralph Duvailleur, Belgian botanist, or Helga Ullmann, freelance florist from Finland, or even Merv Lindolskivitz, renowned Romanian raconteur. You can be anyone you want to be for those few precious weeks – although I recommend you use your own credit card. You might even be yourself.

Step 4. Beating the bugs

The secret to minimising the risk of succumbing to something streptococcal as soon as you hit the warm sand is to trick your body into thinking you are going on holiday at least three days before your scheduled date of departure. This all takes effort and commitment. You can’t just say into the mirror “Gosh, I’m looking forward to going on holiday tomorrow!” while crossing your fingers behind your back. You must put your fake itinerary on the fridge, cancel the papers prematurely and pack your bags three days early – and you must pack your own bags – these tips are invalidated if you delegate. Your body will not be fooled by anything half-hearted.

Be sure to book a doctor’s appointment for the prophylactic prescription essential to fighting the battle of the bugs. And you must submit willingly to the big fat syringe the doctor will produce.

The bonus will be of course that apart from getting any ill health over before you leave, you will gain respect from your family for your new-found ability to carry out simple holiday preparation chores yourself, and you will have no excuses for not going.

Step 5. Choosing suitable holiday reading matter

If you are to relax your brain must be cleared of anything work-related or requiring mental exertion. This is not the time to brush up on your tax law. Avoid the newspaper at all costs – even the sports section may be detrimental to your wellbeing. You have to let go of your dependence on your team’s fortunes if you are truly to relax.

Simple inspirational works are OK (but you should avoid anything that has been miniaturised – this usually indicates that the author did not have enough to say to warrant a normal-sized book but was under enormous pressure from the publisher to fulfil the option agreement).

Regency Romances are also reliable – so long as you remember that duelling with cads, however tempting, is now illegal (note: litigators must take especial notice of this last warning). Ironically, murder mysteries are soothing provided that they are not of the post-modern milieu which deny the reader a satisfying solution. And for gentle moral guidance I recommend anything by Dr Seuss, particularly his seminal work on finding your life’s direction, “Oh the places you’ll go!”.

Bon voyage!

NOTES

ELISABETH WENTWORTH is a lawyer and freelance writer. “How to be a lawyer and still take a holiday” is another chapter from her work-in-progress, How to be a Lawyer and Still be a Human Being.

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