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by Carter Isham | November 24, 2021


I am an attorney (though I no longer practice). My husband, my father, my father-in-law, and my brother-in-law (among other members of my extended family) are also attorneys. Balancing family and the demands of being a lawyer is something I have experienced my whole life, and it’s never harder than at the holidays—the deals and cases don’t stop just because Grandma has made her famous stuffing for the family. Still, there are things you can do to mitigate the stress that holidays cause and make your life just a little bit easier. Here are a few things that have helped when it comes to handling the holidays as (or with!) attorneys.

Get the lay of the land.

The first thing you need to do, before anything else, is to know what’s on your plate during the holiday season—both for work and personally. Do you have major deals closing in late November, or a motion due to the courts in December? Do you have your holiday dinner with your family, or an annual Ugly Sweater party you can’t miss? Once you have determined which events and deadlines are your non-negotiables, you can make a list with the tasks and events that are more flexible. You’ll want to revisit the work precedence list as you wrap deals or new items land on your desk, and you MUST update—and review—your calendar daily.

Plan it out.

Plan ahead for any time you plan to take off completely, whether it’s a day here and there or a full week over New Year’s to ski or soak up the sun in the Bahamas. You’ll want to map out how to clear your desk (as much as possible) before you go, including closing out small matters, triaging major issues, and filing your emails to reduce inbox shock on your return. You will also want to notify your supervising partners—put in for your days off as soon as you know about them—and arrange for any coverage that will be needed. Depending on how senior you are on a deal or case team, major clients may also be worth notifying ahead of time. Then, as your time off gets closer, remind people with enough lead time for them to make their own plans to manage your absence.

Set expectations.

If you have a partner or spouse, talk with them to decide what you want the holidays to look like, what invitations are realistic to include in your schedule (and which to decline), and how you can divide responsibilities for travel preparation or hosting duties. With your family or friends, tell them in plain language what you can commit to—e.g., “I will be available after 4:00 p.m. for the family dinner, but will be working that morning,” or “We can come and stay the week before Christmas, but I will need to work the week between Christmas and New Year’s, so we’ll be heading home December 26.” Especially when it comes to the non-attorneys in your life—who might not fully appreciate the demands of your job—setting clear expectations now will help avoid disappointment or surprises later.

Give yourself some breathing room.

Put up an out-of-office message for the times you’re planning to be at a holiday event. Even if you’re not actually taking the day off, or you are and you’re still looking at emails (like my husband), an out-of-office or out-of-pocket message that lets clients and coworkers know your responses will be delayed allows you to be present where you are and choose when you want to check back in—whether that’s after the party is over or at set time(s) each day. Additionally, take advantage of any flexibility in your schedule, especially if you are still working remotely. If your firm or company has gone back to the office more regularly, see if they will allow remote work in the weeks surrounding the holidays. This can make it much easier to travel or help with hosting duties.

Outsource what you can.

If you’re in BigLaw, the hours aren’t likely to slow down during the holidays—and in fact, some practices may be even busier—so this is the time to use your paycheck to your advantage. Order gifts online (preferably gift-wrapped already). Hire a service to handle your laundry for the month. If you’re hosting a holiday event, think about having party groceries delivered, using a catering service, or making it part potluck, and definitely hire a cleaning service so you aren’t scrubbing counters at 2:00 a.m. If you’re traveling, there isn’t much you can outsource, but think about the actual cost versus the cost of your time–this can mean parking in the closer, more expensive lot at the airport to save half an hour, or checking bags so you’re not lugging everything through security, or planning a long drive for a weekend day or evening to mitigate how much of your workday it consumes.

Making it through to January as an attorney can be challenging and might even leave some wishing the season away. But using these tips and focusing on what’s in front of you—work when you’re working, and people when you’re celebrating—can help make the holidays a more enjoyable time.