Posted Feb 03, 2014 03:00 pm CST
In search of adventure, but feel tied to your desk? Rugger Burke is proof that the practice of law is not incompatible with sailing the high seas, motorcycling across a continent, meditating in a monastery or scouring the Hawaiian islands for the perfect fish tacos.
He speaks with Jenny B. Davis, author of our February 2014 cover story “These lawyers wind down with amped-up vacations,” about how he arranges time away from work; how he keeps in touch with the office while in the remotest of locations; and the ingenious ways he has of packing light.
In This Podcast:
Rugger Burke is general counsel at Satori Capital in Dallas. His trip across the Pacific in a sailboat was profiled in the ABA Journal’s February 2014 cover story. Photos and stories from his journeys around the world can be found on his personal website.
Jenny B. Davis
Jenny B. Davis, a former practicing attorney, is a freelance writer, fashion editor and photo shoot stylist in Texas. She is the author of the ABA Journal’s February 2014 cover story, “These lawyers wind down with amped-up vacations.”
Jenny Davis: And do you have any sure-fire cure for jetlag?
Rugger Burke: I wish I did. I think probably grapefruit juice. A lot of grapefruit juice and vitamins.
Jenny Davis: I’m Jenny Davis, with the ABA Journal and I’m here with Dallas lawyer Rugger Burke, and in the February 2014 issue of the ABA Journal, I wrote about his sailing trip across the Pacific. And I’m here to speak with him more about his adventures and how he chooses them; how he packs; and how he balances these vacations and adventures with his practice of law.
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Jenny Davis: So I wrote about Rugger’s sailing trip across the Pacific and in this trip, he wasn’t just a passenger, he was actually one of the people who was sailing the boat. It was he and three other people, and what I loved about this story was that he had only been taking sailing lessons for about a year and a half when he embarked on this journey. And also, he chose this journey because he actually had a fear of water. So I wanted to just take that and ostart our interview and say, is this always how you choose your vacation? I mean, you’re not looking for pretty places, you’re looking for what scares you?
Rugger Burke: Well, there’s that bit about sharks, too. I have this deathly fear of sharks. You know what, one thing that I started a long time ago, is each year picking something new to try or explore, and so I think it started with, “What can I explore that’s different?” and that sort of morphed into traveling someplace new, or doing something new that involved travel. And so usually, I look at something, I think, “Well, what would be a fun place to go, and maybe something I could learn along the way?” And that starts the sort of conversation in my mind.
Jenny Davis: So let’s talk about a quick down-and-dirty list of all the amazing places that you’ve been.
Rugger Burke: I have motorcycled across South America twice. East/west and then north/south, and then did the same, motorcycled across Europe, and then New Zealand, which was gorgeous. And just in the last couple of years, I went to Egypt during the revolution; hiked Machu Picchu; have gone running with the bulls in Spain; spent time in Italy, Brazil, Japan, Africa, other parts of Asia, etc. And so, you know, a couple places.
Jenny Davis: But with this Japan trip, didn’t you take a vow of silence with monks? Which to me, to be silent would be my biggest fear. I must fill every space with talking! How did you decide to do that? Tell me more about that.
Rugger Burke: You know, I went to Japan and was on a retreat for 10 days and we took a vow, the people that participated–there were about 60 people all together. Took a vow of silence and there were a couple of other ones: You couldn’t kill anything, you couldn’t acknowledge other people, which turned out to be more difficult than being silent. You couldn’t even look at somebody, or nod, or wink, or wave at them, or anything like that.
You know, the idea was to learn to get really present. It was very cold where I went–the place it was in Kyoto, outside of Kyoto, Japan. It was extraordinarily cold. It was during the winter and it rained every night and there’d be water up under my tent, etc. And then it would freeze, which made it extra fun. But you learned that the voices in your head just were complaining all the time, there’s this stream of complaint.
Jenny Davis: You lost me at tent. I’m sorry, my voice is just screaming in terror.
Rugger Burke: But you know, coming back from that, I have to appreciate the quiet. I find that that’s where we make our choices in life, and so if I can spend a little more time in quiet, I can probably have a little more opportunity set of choices to pick from.
Jenny Davis: How did you choose that trip?
Rugger Burke: I read an article somewhere–and this tends to spur some of the vacation ideas–I’d read an article about somebody who’d participated in a similar program in India and I thought, “You know, he’s really complaining a whole lot about being quiet for 10 days, it can’t be that hard. Right?” I thought, “Certainly I could go do that. That’s got to be something I could do.” And I thought the most difficult part would be sitting in one place and so I spent a couple of months in advance, sitting cross-legged as much as I could. So I had to rearrange my office to do that; move the computer around and so forth. I sat in all of our meetings cross-legged for quite a long time. And I would take off my shoes, which made it kind of extra interesting, so anywhere I’d go, I’d just say, “Don’t mind me, I’m gonna take off my shoes if you don’t mind!”
Jenny Davis: So do you have a favorite out of some of the things that you’ve done?
Rugger Burke: There are certain aspects of places that I tend to like. I like it where there’s some sort of intrinsic natural beauty and then, you know, that you can connect with the place. So like New Zealand? Just gorgeous, do not pass go, just stop. Go there. Hawaii, it seems like–it’s so simple and it’s a direct flight from almost anywhere and it’s just a gorgeous place, and you can get almost anything you want out of it. You could go to the Four Seasons Resort, or you can go stay in the jungle. It has almost everything. And so–I like Hawaii a lot.
Jenny Davis: What did you do there? I have a feeling you didn’t just check into the Four Seasons.
Rugger Burke: [laughs] Well Hawaii, I did a lot of hiking up in the mountains, along the coast, and that was particularly beautiful. And tried to find the best fish tacos on the islands. That was the other one.
Jenny Davis: That’s a noble pursuit.
Rugger Burke: Very important, and there’s some very good ones to try.
Jenny Davis: Rugger, how do you have a chance to take these longer trips and still practice Law at your company?
Rugger Burke: Good partners. I think that’s the start of it. You know setting the expectation up front with folks, saying “Hey look, during the year there’s gonna–I’d like to take a week or two off here,” and asking for others to buy into that. Say, “Look, this is really important to me, something I want to do,” and so then–and then also working with the folks that are in our ecosystem.
I moved in-house to be general counsel, but even before then, when I’d speak to clients, I’d say, “Hey, listen, I want to work with you. But please understand I’ll be gone this week, and this week, and this week,” and by telling people that upfront, I found that people were very accommodating. And so it does create a little bit of a rush of getting things done before you leave. And some pile-up of things that happen while you’re gone, but it works out, as long as you–as long as I’ve communicated, I think people have been pretty open to helping out.
Jenny Davis: Well, I know with the Pacific crossing, that just because of logistics and location, you weren’t able to be connected to the office. But have you gone on some of these adventure vacations and been able to check in with what’s going on at the office?
Rugger Burke: I have. I have sometimes. You know, phones have gotten so good, texting, you can get a text almost anywhere. I was in Belize over the holidays, and I’d have to go up to the top of the mountain near where I was staying to get a bar on the phone, but I could get texts in and out. So if something came up, I could then make a call, or whatever else, or identify the person who could help and then, if necessary, go to a place in town where there was internet access, or some place to get to email.
And at times, if I’ve been gone for a long time, I’ll set up a special email account for people to send things to from the office, so that way I don’t have to go through like a thousand emails. I can just go through the two or three that are like “Need attention now!” during this period of time.
Jenny Davis: Oh that’s a great idea. Do you use any type of cloud-based repository so that you can pull down documents?
Rugger Burke: I do. I do. Dropbox has been–it’s one of the best conveniences that I’ve found, and it’s nice because you can load documents up and you stay in sync and so forth. And so it has been a go-to for quite a while. So I think of the technology pieces, that’s been a real help.
Jenny Davis: I know in the article I spoke with an attorney who had wonderful things to say about satellite phones, and then you had said that the satellite phone wasn’t really helpful to you on the Pacific crossing. Do you have any experience working with satellite phones, or is that something that you would recommend, or that’s helpful for vacations?
Rugger Burke: I do. I do, yeah. I think they are. They can be very helpful in the right places. So on a moving boat, not so much because they have to triangulate on satellites and it can’t stay fixed long enough to really connect. But almost anywhere else, they have satellite coverage and so they work really well.
Then the thing I found is, buy a prepaid plan where you buy your minutes in advance and it’s much less expensive. So it can be like $1.00 a minute if you buy them in advance. And you just rent the phone and the phone companies are really good. And in some places, you can just actually buy a rent a phone at the airport. For instance, if you go to Japan, they have rental phones in the airport and they’re actually fairly low cost.
Jenny Davis: Do you have things that you are able to take with you throughout each different type of adventure?
Rugger Burke: My camera tends to be my one constant travel companion. I have a little camera that’s a little German-made camera that tends to be able to take on some of the abuse when it gets rattled around behind a motorcycle, or whatever else is going on. It’s seen its fair share of abuse. So it’s got a few nicks and dings in it, but it continues to perform and I should probably name it at some point.
I have sort of just a couple of requisites. One is: Make sure you can carry on anything you’re gonna take. I have a duffle bag that goes when things are gonna be somewhat adventurous and it could get wet and nasty, or otherwise, and then I have a just a wheel bag for when things are gonna be pretty–you know, just domestic and easy.
But the thing that I tend to carry the most, that serves the best, is just a little courier bag. You know, just a light courier bag, and it’s big enough to fit a laptop computer, a book or two, and the camera, and that pretty much does it. And I always keep a tube of sunscreen and a hat in there because I’m a little challenged by the sun. But that’s it. So those are my trusted travel companions.
I’ll give you one little secret about the way I’ve made it a little easier, which is this: I think everybody has extra clothes around the house that they’re ready to give away or donate. And so what I do is, I gather all those up, and before I go on a trip, and that’s what I pack.
And so along the way, as I’ve starting to use up clothes, I donate them as I go. So any photograph of me from trips, I’m wearing the worst clothing in my closet, but it’s not coming back. So hopefully my bag gets lighter over the days of travel, rather than getting heavier.
Jenny Davis: That’s brilliant. Now, I know that taking vacations is great and there’s all sorts of studies that show that taking vacations are healthy for you, but of course it’s always difficult for lawyers to detach from the office. So I was wondering if you had any thoughts about how these adventures had made you a better lawyer?
Rugger Burke: You know, yeah. Asking the question, yeah, a couple of things come to mind. One, probably having a little more empathy for people. And since you see people in all different environments, it gives you sort of a broader sense of what people experience. It’s also really good for relationship building.
I think one thing we were talking about earlier, is some people are quiet, and some people have different ways of meeting folks. But this way, you’re sort of in a continual forced environment where you have to interact and meet people, and it’s really helpful because I tend to be one of those people that’s otherwise quiet. But when you’re out there, you know it forces conversations and so forth, and that’s really enjoyable.
But probably the best thing is, lawyers are really good at putting out fires. They’re really good at fire drills, but not so good–this is my own experience, at least–not so good at figuring out the fire-suppression system. In other words, what’s the long term strategy? And when you’re away, you get sort of that zoom out that’s necessary to sort of help you figure out the strategy, whether it’s with a case, your career, the path of your firm, etc.
But all those things, when your mind is free and some unstructured time, a lot of that stuff just comes up organically. And you come back not only refreshed, but your vision, for the long term, is much much clearer. That’s been my experience.
Jenny Davis: Do you have any suggestions for a shorter vacation that a lawyer could take who only had maybe two or three days?
Rugger Burke: Absolutely, yeah, yeah. Sure. I think Santa Fe is great, if you can pop over to Albuquerque and then it’s like a 45-minute drive. Colorado’s right in the center of the country, and in the off-season it’s great. I particularly like it in the summer. And then anywhere on the coast. It turns out like the Dominican Republic is just a direct flight for a lot of people. Belize is a direct flight for a lot of people. It’s only two-and-a-half hours direct flight from Dallas. You can go down there for a long weekend, if you want, and have a great time. But you know Jackson Hole, lots of places around the U.S. that you just go and enjoy. Even in some place like a Savannah, Ga., you can really have a lot of fun.
Jenny Davis: So I have to ask, where are you going next? What’s next on your agenda?
Rugger Burke: It’s funny, I got a text from a friend today, he said, “Hey, I found some motorcycles in Cuba!” I’m like, “OK. Sure, why not? Sounds good.”
Jenny Davis: Adios!
Rugger Burke: So if I don’t go to Cuba, it’ll probably be Iceland.
Jenny Davis: Well, thank you so much for spending time with us and speaking with us today.
Rugger Burke: Thank you so much. Thank you, Jenny.
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