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Holiday counts towards billable hours, Orrick tells London lawyers

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US firm to credit 40 hours of bonus-eligible time to encourage lawyers to truly ‘unplug’ for a week

US law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe is encouraging its lawyers to “unplug” with the introduction of a new policy that makes holiday count towards billable hours.

The new policy, which is believed to be the first of its kind, applies globally to the firm’s lawyers and staff, including those based in London.

Each member of staff is encouraged to take a week of their holiday allowance to totally switch off each year; Orrick will then offer 40 hours of bonus-eligible credit to protect this time. These 40 hours count towards lawyers’ annual billing targets and will be treated in the same way the firm treats time devoted to client work.

“Performing at the highest level is sustainable only if you also take the time to recover — that’s true of top performance across all disciplines,” read a firm memo published by Above the Law. “Yet it’s harder to unplug in today’s ‘living at work’ environment, as we jump from Zoom to Zoom and feel the yoke of our inboxes and our desire to be responsive.”

The memo continued:

“We don’t want to lose you to burnout — especially when many members of our team are working exceptionally hard. So we’re going to try something different: we’re setting a formal expectation (and creating a policy) that each member of our team — partners, counsel, associates and staff — takes one week to truly unplug each year.”

Orrick also announced a “Focused Fridays” initiative, where non-urgent meetings are discouraged on Friday afternoons so that lawyers can finish off the week’s work ahead of the weekend.

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This morning a Financial Times (£) report revealed that junior lawyers, among other professional services staff, are suffering “burnout” after working longer hours in isolation during the pandemic. This has sparked fears of an “exodus” from global law and advisory firms.

“Before the pandemic, work drinks and the ability to escape on snatches of annual leave made the relentless pace of work seem worthwhile,” one trainee solicitor at an unnamed US law firm told the newspaper. “Now, without the distractions of the perks and with more head space to consider our options, it’s increasingly obvious to some of us that we have made questionable life choices.”

Our own stories in recent weeks have laid bare the extent to which working from home has taken its toll on trainees. “I’ve really felt my mental health slipping over the last few months,” said one anonymous commenter, whilst another added: “[Working from home] I feel constantly on edge, as if I step away from my computer for anymore than a few minutes it will be assumed that I’m just bunking off and watching Netflix, rather than doing a legitimate workday activity like going for a walk or getting lunch.”

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