Family Leave for Solos and Small
Posted on 03/09/2015
How do solos and small firm lawyers plan for extended leave when a new
member is about to join the family? It can be hard enough to take a vacation!
Fortunately, there are some answers and good resources to draw upon. (Jump
to the end of this post.) For now, let’s cover the basics.
Colleagues, Conflicts, and Staffing
The best coverage plan entails having a number of colleagues lined up who are
willing to cover your cases. Remember what your parents said? Safety in
numbers! If one person can’t cover in an emergency, someone else can. A team
approach works best.
By necessity, any lawyers who might work on client matters must be screened
for conflicts. Clients need to be notified anyway about your upcoming leave.
Use this opportunity to get permission to share information for conflict and
representation purposes. (More on this below.)
If you have staff, great! They are a huge help any time you are away from the
office, more so during extended absences. They will be a lifeline for everyday
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communication, including screening mail, email, and calls. If you don’t have staff,
consider getting a temp. Having someone who can cover day-to-day operations
brings peace of mind and ensures that nothing falls through the cracks.
How Do I Tell My Clients?
One option is to send a letter or email. No surprise there. But is it the best
Most lawyers anticipating family leave have a number of colleagues in mind to
assist in covering their cases. This alone can make writing a letter or email
complicated and confusing: “I’m going to be out of the office, but you can
choose from Lawyer A, Lawyer B, or Lawyer C.” Huh?
Consider picking up the phone instead. Call clients and tell them you are taking
a medical leave and why. (Of course, you can omit the “why” part – it is personal
and technically no one’s business, but most lawyers taking family leave don’t
mind sharing this news.)
Have a conversation with the client about what is happening. Explain your plan,
offer a name of a monitoring lawyer (or team of monitoring lawyers), then get
consent to screen for potential conflicts and review the client’s case with the
monitoring lawyer(s). If everything is a “go,” make sure the client understands
and agrees to temporary representation by the monitoring lawyer(s). Don’t
forget to discuss how the billing and payment piece will work.
If the client does not agree with your proposed arrangement, you may have to
disengage and withdraw from the case. The client will need to find a new lawyer
of their choosing.
Confirming Arrangements in Writing
Assuming you call clients to review your plan, sending a confirming email
becomes relatively easy:
“As we discussed, I will be out of the office on a medical leave of absence
for ___________ (months/weeks). During my leave, I propose that
_______________ monitor your file. You agree that I may share
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information with _____________ so (he/she) may screen for potential
conflicts of interest. If no conflicts exist, you agree that I may disclose details
of your case to ______________________ for purposes of monitoring your
file and attending to any legal work that needs to be accomplished while I
am out of the office. If we discover a conflict that prohibits
___________________ from assisting you, I will contact you immediately.
You will receive a separate written confirmation from
___________________ (the monitoring lawyer) confirming the
arrangements we have made.
(Describe next how the client will be billed.)
My assistant, _______________, will be available by phone and email
should you have any questions while I am out of the office. (Provide your
assistant’s contact information.)
Rest assured I will stay informed regarding the status of your case. I
anticipate returning to the office on ___________. If for any reason my
return is delayed, I will inform you immediately.
(Optional: Please reply to this email confirming your understanding and
agreement to this arrangement.)
Fee Agreements and Paying the Monitoring Lawyer
If your existing fee agreement has a provision informing the client that you have
made arrangements for someone to cover your practice in the event of illness or
disability you have laid the necessary foundation for using a monitoring lawyer.
The PLF offers a number of fee agreements and engagement letters that
incorporate “assisting attorney” language. For samples, visit the PLF website.
Select Practice Management > Forms, then Engagement Letters.
If your existing fee agreement has a contract lawyering provision – meaning the
client has consented to use of a contract lawyer at a specified rate – it is easy to
have the monitoring lawyer step into the contract role. You may bill the client for
contract lawyering services according to your existing fee agreement.
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Alternatively, clients can sign separate fee agreements with the monitoring
More Answers and Good Resources
There are many excellent articles and resources for lawyers planning family
◾ Navigating Maternity Leave How to Maintain Your Sanity and Your Career
◾ How to Succeed after Maternity Leave: Tips for Attorneys and Law Firms
◾ Mama Solos and the Maternity Leave Mystery
◾ Maternity Leave for Solo Lawyers: Is It Possible?
◾ Oh Baby! Preparing for Maternity and Family Leave as a Solo Practitioner
◾ The Baby and the Solo Practice
◾ You Have a Baby In Your Office (and other maternity leave ideas)
[All Rights Reserved – 2015 – Beverly Michaelis]
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This entry was posted in Career, Client Relations, Ethics, Solo Practice, Staff
and tagged Beverly Michaelis, conflicts, extended absence, Family Law, fee
agreements, Maternity leave, Oregon law practice management, small firm,
Solo by beverlym. Bookmark the permalink
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