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Gone adventurin’

Missouri lawyers share tips on how to escape for weeks, months

Almost anyone can find a week or two to get away from the grind. But sometimes a few days just isn’t enough. What if you want to complete a lifetime goal like climbing a mountain or seeing all 50 states? Some attorneys look for longer stints out of the office, sometimes taking a month or more away from work. But lengthier vacations mean you must prepare and make special arrangements. Here’s some good advice from Missouri lawyers.

Get ready to pay the piper

A longer time away means more work beforehand. There’s no way around it. Steven Groce, a criminal law

Springfield criminal defense attorney Steven Groce has traveled to Aruba and Turkey to photograph lunar and solar eclipses with the aid of a telescope. He snapped these photos of the December 2010 total lunar eclipse back home in Springfield. Before a long trip, he says, “you try to knock out as much as you can.” He plans to go to Egypt next month. Photo by Steven Groce

attorney with Springfield’s Groce & DeArmon, often travels internationally to see solar and lunar eclipses. He’s planning a trip to Egypt in June. “You try to knock out as much as you can,” he says. “You work nights. You work weekends. I’ve worked the last two weekends in a row, Saturday and Sunday. If you want to do an activity like that, you really have to push the envelope to get the work done when you can get it done.”


Properly train staff and empower them to make clearly delineated decisions. Spell out the issues over which they have authority and those for which they must call you. “They’re not giving legal advice, but they’ve got to be in a position to make [some of] the kinds of calls that normally you might reserve for yourself,” Groce says.

Cut down on email

Attorneys often receive a flood of automatic mass alerts, invites and email messages generated from professional organizations, media outlets and online user groups. While they can be useful in everyday life, they are a headache for staff when you’re away, says Mary Beth Blake, an attorney in the health care law group at Polsinelli Shughart in Kansas City. “Clear those out and cancel them for the time that you are gone,” says Blake, who’s planning a four-month sabbatical to tour national parks, hike in the Pacific Northwest and visit family in China. “If they were coming in, then my assistant would have to deal with them. It’s easier just to make a list of them and terminate them.”

Give direction

You’ll remember to inform clients of your absence beforehand, of course. But some calls will still come in during your absence. Remember to update your email and voicemail with “out of the office” messages, especially if you don’t plan on monitoring them during vacation. More than that, be sure to include contact information for someone who can help the caller. “You want to be very clear to anyone sending you an email that if they have a matter that needs attention that they can get to the right person,” Blake says.

Time it right

Attorneys in large firms have other qualified lawyers on staff to serve clients in their absence. But don’t get overly confident. Another attorney may be able to keep a case warm for you and handle routine matters, but clients expect consistent representation on important and sensitive matters. “I think timing is everything,” Blake says. “If you are in the middle of a large transaction or you have a big trial coming up, that probably wouldn’t be a good time for a sabbatical. Clients at that point are looking for a certain, set attorney.”

Keep an eye on bills

Extended leaves can mean extended bills as well. Even if the firm is paying your salary while you’re away, Russ Welsh, chairman of Polsinelli Shughart, says it’s still a good idea to monitor personal expenses. “Watch your credit card,” he says. “When you are on a sabbatical, it can become expensive because people want to travel and go to a vacation spot for a month or so.”

Jim Cook, a partner with Berkowitz, Cook & Gondring, manages to take two monthlong vacations each year to visit Maine and Mexico. Photo by Susan McSpadden

Get a magicJack

Jim Cook, a partner with Berkowitz, Cook & Gondring in Kansas City, takes a pair of monthlong vacations each year to visit Maine and Mexico. He stays in touch by phone using a magicJack, a device that costs about $40 and only requires an Internet-connected computer and a small annual fee. “It’s excellent,” he says. The magic is in the thumb drive that connects to the USB port of a computer. At the other end is a standard phone jack. “I have an 816 number,” Cook says. “It’s clear and economical.”

Come back

For attorneys who worry about losing out on new clients while away, there is another option: Return when necessary. Cook says he tries to contact potential new clients within five business days while he’s on vacation. If necessary, he’ll even fly back from a long vacation to meet with them in person. “If they call on Aug. 5 and my office says, ‘Well, Jim won’t be back until Sept. 1,’ they’re gone,’” he says. “They’re not going to want to wait.”

Get it scanned and sent

One nightmare many lawyers face after coming back to the realities of office life is the dreaded mountain of papers on the desk. Cook tries to mitigate the problem by having his assistant scan and pass along all non-junk mail daily. “Everything is then emailed to me so I can review all correspondence and pleadings,” he says. “When I come back to the office after a month, I don’t have 20 business days of mail stacked on my desk.”

Prepare mentally to return

Doug Nickell, a wealth strategies attorney with Lathrop & Gage’s Springfield office, took a 90-day sabbatical with his wife, Rae, who is also an attorney, so the pair could bike from Virginia to Oregon. He says the best advice is to be aware that it may take a while to get your head fully back in the game after months of not answering the phone or writing briefs. “The hardest part was coming back and getting back into the routine of being there from 7 [a.m.] to 6 [p.m.] sitting at a desk,” he says.