Be A Venturing Lawyer
'Being a venturing lawyer is more than just taking time off. It's about embracing being adventurous, trusting your staff and the system you have built, appreciating the work it takes to create the time and space for resting your mind, and embracing a venturing mindset'
Venturing in a skiff somewhere north of Lower Matecumbe Key, we watched the sun set over Florida Bay. The dusk was copper-tinged. The sea was so calm it could have been glass. I broke the silence and said out loud, “What a wonderful sunset.” Upset with my failure to set a hook into any fish, the weathered captain tersely said, “Shut up and fish.” Perhaps the old salt threw in a few expletives. My Australian friend had caught five tarpons on that charter, and good naturedly ribbed me for all the tarpons that had jumped off my line.
Following the captain’s orders, I stood up and grabbed the tarpon rod with both hands. I turned my back to the west and looked toward the ruined arches of Flagler’s old bridge, where my line had drifted. A second later, the reel began to scream with the tell-tale sound of a very big fish on the line. The monster jumped into the air several hundred yards away, slapping the water with the sound only a tarpon makes. My heart sunk seeing the distance my line had wandered. I had not paid attention to how much line I let out while watching the sunset. The captain shouted, “Set the hook! Don’t let him off!” His bark made me do what I had failed to do all day, take several steps back and pull the rod in one motion. With the rod now bent into a bow, the hook was set, the competition between man and monster began. Not wanting to lose this tarpon, the captain worked me like a drill sergeant. It was dark as I pulled in the 200lb silver king, both fish and man utterly exhausted.
Before letting it go, the captain showed me all the missing armor-plated scales that looked like scars on the great old fish. Long ago, anglers would cut out an armored scale as a keepsake of landing the great Megalops Atlanticus. The ancient silver kings lived on with these battle scars, reminders of old fights.
As we age into the practice of law, we lawyers have as many battle scars as the old silver kings. Each scar helps us learn and grow, but they also tire us out. Being a lawyer is an incredibly demanding and challenging job. It requires constant attention to detail, a strong work ethic, and a deep understanding of the law. We wake up in the middle the night worrying about whether a deadline was missed or not. We worry about our clients, as we want what is best for them. We must deal with tough characters who may not want to make peace. We constantly worry about not taking the bait, so to speak. These thoughts can weigh heavily on the mind and soul.
Rest is the best elixir for the burned out and scarred lawyer. A long and adventurous vacation provides the space for restoring the peace of mind that all of us need to live happy lives. The art of a long vacation is a dying art. I can’t tell you how many lawyers never take a true vacation. They consider a long weekend a rest. It really isn’t. If we are honest with ourselves, it can take at least a week to forget about practicing law and not dream about deadlines.
A venturing lawyer is one that takes a long vacation to someplace that he has never been before, looking to have some fun with a focus on the here and now. A true adventure makes you forget the day-to-day battle of practicing law and helps you recover the non-lawyer in you. A venturing lawyer is someone who understands the importance of taking time off to refresh and recharge.
One of the most important aspects of being a venturing lawyer is the value of a vacation. Many lawyers view vacations as a luxury or a sign of weakness, but in reality, they are a crucial part of maintaining mental health and avoiding burnout. When lawyers take time off, they are able to step away from the stresses of their job and come back refreshed and ready to tackle new challenges.
There is a medical reason to take long vacations. Lawyers have high-functioning brains. High-functioning brains are influenced by serotonin levels. Stress and work demands can impact serotonin levels and function, which can contribute to feelings of burnout and decreased cognitive performance. Over time, depleted serotonin levels can have consequences, particularly in terms of mental health and well-being.
There are ways to boost your brain’s supply of serotonin. Resting without stress can have positive effects on serotonin levels and overall brain health, recharging the serotonin needed to be a high functioning sharp lawyer. You may scoff, but a long vacation is exactly what every lawyer needs to be the best lawyer they can be for their clients.
Taking a long vacation is also good for your business model. If you say your firm can’t run without you, you have not put in place good systems. Taking a vacation as long as a month can provide insight into your law firm that you will not get by being there each day. I ventured for a month through the Buccaneer Archipelago. In exchange for seeing a bright band of the Milky Way and a night sky hung with the Southern Cross, there is no cellular or internet service for hundreds of miles. My family and I explored deserted islands, built bonfires, fished, and ventured through Western Australia. The trip highly increased my serotonin levels and cleared my mind.
I had left specific instructions for my firm while I was gone. When I came back, I was happy to find that the firm had not just survived while I was away, it had thrived. However, there was one exception. One member of my firm seemed to do nothing while I was away. This was a person that had worked well when I was physically present at the firm, taking my constant direction. I had not realized how much prodding I had to give, how much time each day wasted on supervision. After coming back and seeing with fresh eyes what was going on, it was time for us to part ways. The long vacation metric has helped me greatly over the years evaluate who can work independently and who cannot. Your law practice is much better served with hard working independent-minded team members. Your life will be much less stressful surrounded by these types too.
Of course, taking a long vacation is easier said than done for many lawyers. The demands of the job can make it difficult to step away for an extended period of time. However, building a practice that is systematic and organized can help lawyers take time off without worrying about emergencies. By putting systems in place to handle routine tasks and delegating responsibilities to others, lawyers can take time off knowing that their clients and cases are in good hands.
It is also important for lawyers to understand that they are not the end-all-be-all. Many lawyers fall into the trap of thinking that if they are not behind their desk, things will fall apart. However, this is a fallacy. At some point, the task will be handled by another person that you gave diligent and supervising instructions to. By recognizing this, lawyers can reduce their ego and take time off without feeling guilty or anxious.
Another important aspect of being a venturing lawyer is understanding the importance of networking and building relationships outside of your immediate legal community. Many lawyers become so focused on their daily practice that they forget to connect with other professionals in related fields or even potential clients. I’ve made some of the best friends of my life bumping into engaging people who are also on a long vacation. One lifelong friendship was made at a ski lodge after a blizzard forced us off the slopes and into the après ski bar. As they say, you never know who you will bump into. It could be your next best friend.
Being a venturing lawyer is more than just taking time off. It’s about embracing being adventurous, trusting your staff and the system you have built, appreciating the work it takes to create the time and space for resting your mind, and embracing a venturing mindset. By being a venturing lawyer, we can avoid burnout, stay motivated, and be the most effective advocates for our clients and mindfully present for our loved ones. It’s okay to have some missing scales, as long as you can recharge and relax before the next battle.
Let’s all resolve to be venturing lawyers.
Jim Vickaryous is the managing partner of the Vickaryous Law Firm in Lake Mary and represents the 18th Circuit on The Florida Bar Board of Governors.