How does a sole practitioner ever take a holiday?
15 August 2017
Law Society Blog

 I ended up in the attic of the gite standing on a sofa, on top of cushions, with my head out of the Velux window trying to get the best signal….

 I have never been one for an easy life. It should not really come as a surprise then that, as a sole practitioner, running a niche family law practice, I tend to choose holiday destinations lacking in connectivity. Whether it's a cottage on the Llŷn Peninsula a quarter of a mile from where the car can be parked, or up an extinct volcano in Lower Silesia, the theme is the same. None of the places I go to for a break seem to have a phone signal, let alone internet access.

Be firm about who's managing the firm

So what about chapter 7 of the SRA Code of Conduct, "Management of your business"? Indicative behaviour 7.3 refers to "making arrangements for the continuation of your firm in the event of absences and emergencies, for example holiday or sick leave, with the minimum interruption to clients' business". So how does a sole practitioner ever take a holiday?

Some sole practitioners have a mutual arrangement with another close by to help 'mind the shop' while they are abroad. Others pick up their emails and divert the office to their mobile phones for the duration of their break. Fortunately, I am blessed with a very able team that includes other experienced family law solicitors.

If you haven't got those arrangements, when you find yourself in the middle of nowhere, how do you run your firm, never mind market it? One option is to establish what one might metaphorically term the remote branch office. This may take the form of a handy internet cafe or even a local bar. However, do beware of using insecure wifi. A few years ago the SRA published: Spiders in the web: The risks of online crime to legal business. It still makes useful reading now, especially if you are entirely dependent on the internet to run your firm.

Don't wipe out while surfing

Sitting outside a sunny bar by the Mediterranean, working on your work laptop sounds idyllic. But who is looking over your shoulder? Does your device have a privacy screen that prevents others from peeking? Such a small investment is worth it especially when you come to read the Law Society's blog: Keep your papers under wraps for GDPR compliance. Sobering stuff indeed.

To market or not to market

So you have dealt with the management of your practice. You still have a few days left of your break. What about some marketing?

A few years ago I stayed at a friend's place in Bergerac. As usual with my destination choice, connectivity was poor. Days before I crossed the Channel I had sent out a few press releases. A BBC radio station back home belatedly took an interest in the story and wanted a live interview on the topic. Not one to miss such an opportunity I agreed to be interviewed. The result? I ended up in the attic of the gite standing on a sofa, on top of cushions, with my head out of the Velux window trying to get the best signal. This sort of scenario is not one covered by media training sessions I have ever had.

Social media: watch the retweets

What about a little marketing via social media whilst you are away? Fine but keep it relevant. By all means tweet a picture of the local law firm you come across on the high street of a town in outer Mongolia. However, please remember that those of us stuck in Blighty in the pouring August rain really are not massively interested in picture after picture of your beautiful Barbados beach.

Surely the odd retweet can't cause any harm? It rather depends on what it is. One IT guru told me that someone with a Twitter feed built into their firm's website had not realised that any edgy retweet they might do came up on the site's timeline, just like any other tweet. Cue embarrassment.

Managing your holiday

I am conscious that not much of this article chimes with Karen Jackson's 2016 summer blog Digital detox: switch off for the holidays, commendable though its themes are. Going anywhere near a smart phone can provoke the response, "You're supposed to be on holiday", which is a fair point.

One way of balancing the perceived demands of your practice and the expectations of family and friends with whom you are holidaying might be to ration your use of your smart phone. You might simply go online for a few minutes every day or two.

If you have the luxury of qualified staff looking after your matters then leave them to do so. After all, you've trained them well, done holiday notes and facilitated a seamless handover. At best they'll think that you are a nuisance if you keep bothering them. At worst they'll feel you don't trust them.

Conclusion

I hope that you have a good break from the daily stress of life as a solicitor. If you are reading this on holiday and you get told off, do blame me - then read last summer's "Digital detox" piece.

Tony Roe is a family law arbitrator and principal of Tony Roe Divorce & Family Law Solicitors, Theale, Reading. He is also a member of the Law Society's Family Section and Small Firms Division committees.

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