The winter can be difficult for many law firms. In most areas of litigation, the court dates and needs of the clients continue. In some jurisdictions, courts might even want to conclude matters and clear their docket before the year ends. This can help unclog dockets before new cases are filed after the start of the new year.
Some judges also might be moving to different divisions within a courthouse. This can give them an extra incentive to have their cases conclude before the year ends. This way, the parties do not end up with a new judge handling the case.
At the same time many cases are hitting a crescendo, employees can often feel a winter apathy or sluggishness. While courts and clients are wanting law firms to advance and conclude cases through settlement or trial, some employees often have other things on their mind.
In particular, many employees are often thinking of putting in their vacation requests. Some employees might have been saving their time-off all year-long in the hopes that they can take some extra time off in the winter around the holidays.
When snowflakes come down, many employees also want to stay home and do their legal work another day. That might be the case even if the snowfall is minimal. Snowfall can often remind an employee of their school days where school was canceled.
The reality as a law firm manager or owner is that it is hard to keep employees motivated during the winter months. While many employees might just want to shut down the law firm for the winter (like the day Wally World was closed in National Lampoon’s Vacation for repairs and maintenance where John Candy says, “Sorry folks. The park is closed. The moose out front should have told you), the reality is that employees have to keep working. You cannot just shut down entire an entire office (except in rare occurrences where the weather is so bad courthouses are closed) and not service clients.
Certainly some employees are going to be able to take some time off during the winter. Those employees who have been with the firm the longest and who are the hardest working and most loyal are normally first in line to get that winter time off. But at the same time, you cannot let all your employees take a vacation day on the same day. If you do, your office will literally not be open.
If you office is not open during the winter months, or you are short-staffed throughout the holidays and the entire winter season, clients are going to complain. They are going to feel as if their legal needs are not being met. Courts are also likely to complain as well if your law firm is not advancing cases during the winter time.
Obviously, you want to have compassion for your employees during the winter months. To the extent you can let people take some time off, while simultaneously having enough employees around to meet client needs, you should seek to do so.
You also want to be realistic. After all, it can be hard to keep employees motivated during the winter months. You also cannot deny all vacation requests during the holiday season or else you will come off as Ebenezer Scrooge.
At the same time, as a law firm manager or owner, you have to ensure that your law firm stays open. You cannot simply let everybody take the entire holiday season and winter off. The reality is that a law firm is a service based business. Even in the winter months and around the holidays, clients are entitled to competent, communicative and diligent representation.
If you have any thoughts, feel free to share them below.