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Work/Life Balance

New Sedgwick Policy Offers Lavish Vacation Time, But Some See a Downside

Posted Jun 4, 2009 3:21 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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A new discretionary vacation policy went into effect in the United States offices of Sedgwick Detert Moran & Arnold last month. It potentially offers associates and counsel lavish amounts of vacation time, at least in theory.

They can take as much as four consecutive weeks of vacation, according to an internal law firm memo (PDF) published by Above the Law. Plus, the memo places no specific limit on the total amount of vacation that can be taken annually.

There are, however, a few restrictions on actually using this vacation time, the memo explains. Among them: Attorneys are expected to discuss their vacation plans "well in advance" with supervisors and colleagues. And lawyers also are expected to take their vacations in a manner that permits them to meet client deadlines and partner needs and "contribute" to the firm's billable hours standards.

"This approach is consistent with the professionalism that is the foundation of legal practice and with the often expressed desire of our attorneys to manage work and life balance in the legal workplace," the memo states, noting that the new discretionary vacation policy for associates and counsel is the same one that applies to Sedgwick partners.

"Our attorney time-off policies are designed to provide time away from work to rest, reflect and renew," the memo states. "This is essential both to provide balance in our work and personal lives and to maintain the quality of professional service that we provide our clients."

Effectively, this new vacation policy is a cut in attorney compensation, one anonymous tipster tells Above the Law, because it will eventually eliminate unused paid vacation time under the firm's former policy. (Lawyers are told in the memo they must use up their accrued paid vacation time first and then may begin taking time off under the new discretionary vacation policy.) When Sedgwick lawyers no longer have unused vacation time earned under the old policy, the tipster and ATL posit, they will no longer receive payment for this unused paid vacation time when they leave the firm, as they have in the past.

A firm spokeswoman did not immediately respond to ABA Journal requests for comment.

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