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Nothing But the Ruth

Lawyers and Vacations: It’s a Necessity

By Ruth Carter

I haven’t taken a vacation in over two years. In 2016, I took my dog Rosie to Flagstaff, Arizona, for a few days. We relaxed in front of the fire at our Airbnb and I spent an afternoon at a ropes course. It was so wonderful to have a break from being a lawyer.

I suck at relaxing. Too much unstructured time makes me anxious. I have to be told to take a vacation. My therapist suggested it the last time, and my running coach recently told me I need to take a vacation or staycation. (I don’t think I could do a staycation. I can’t keep myself from checking work email if I’m too close to the office.)

Vacation Thoughts from Fellow Lawyers

I’m sure I’m not the only lawyer who has trouble taking a real break. The latest State of American Vacation report says that more than half of Americans are not using all the vacation time they earn. (The numbers, though, are moving in a positive direction — in 2017, 52 percent of employees reported having unused vacation days at year’s end, compared with 54 percent in 2016.)

So, I asked 100 lawyers for their thoughts about taking vacations. Of those who responded, 63 percent said they had gone on vacation in the past six months, and another 23 percent reported taking a vacation in the last year. I was pleased to see the majority of them appear to be better at taking time off than me.

Even though most respondents take more vacation time than me, the majority also reported working while taking time off, with 29 percent reporting they work during vacation and 52 percent “sometimes” working during vacation.

Benefits of Vacations

I asked the respondents about the benefits of vacation. The most common answers were that vacation helps them relax, recharge, reduce stress, spend time with loved ones and see new places. Here are some of their responses:

  • “It’s fun and why I work.”
  • “Relax, de-stress, come back fresh.”
  • “ … a way to keep your significant other from leaving you because you work too much.”
  • “Time with family really — it’s a huge negative for work but the benefits in creating memories with my family are worth the professional cost.”
  • “… time to feel like you’re a human again.”

I particularly connected with these responses:

  • “Allows me to decompress, recharge and get some perspective on what really matters in life.”
  • “Recharge and reset. Generally, if I push too long at work, my productivity and drive take a hit (aka, a permanent state of ‘I don’t wanna’). Vacation days give me an actual legit break from work, meaning I’m less inclined to do burnout-related procrastination … which helps no one.”

I’ve been in an “I don’t wanna” phase recently — overly stressed and under-productive, too, despite having more than enough client work and other obligations to keep me busy. Deadlines are the main thing keeping me motivated lately.

Does Going to a Conference Count as Vacation?

A fellow lawyer asked if attending conferences counts as going on vacation. I’m inclined to say no unless you stay in the conference city to rest and recharge after the event’s over. Even if your conference is in a fun city and has fun activities, it’s still a work event.

I attended and spoke at an event in Las Vegas earlier this year. Even though I got to visit with friends and I took a break from the conference to ride the zip line, it wasn’t a city I would choose to visit otherwise, and it was a work trip.

My Next Vacation

I am finally starting to plan my next vacation. A 2010 study found that merely planning a trip can increase one’s happiness. I’d love to take my dog and stay in a cabin or lodge, preferably one that has limited Wi-Fi so I won’t be checking email and social media all day, and where all my meals are provided. I’m on the lookout for a vacation spot like this, or at least a trip away from the big city where I won’t need an alarm clock for a few days.

What’s your advice for taking a truly restful vacation?

Illustration ©

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Ruth Carter Ruth Carter

Ruth Carter — lawyer, writer and professional speaker — is Of Counsel with Venjuris, focusing on intellectual property, business, internet and flash mob law. Named an ABA Journal Legal Rebel, Ruth is the author of “The Legal Side of Blogging for Lawyers,” as well as “Flash Mob Law: The Legal Side of Planning and Participating in Pillow Fights, No Pants Rides, and Other Shenanigans.” Ruth blogs at and

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