Vol. 14, No. 5, Pg. 40. Life in the slow lane: the joys and benefits of a sabbatical.

AuthorBy Franklin J. Smith Jr.

South Carolina Lawyer


Vol. 14, No. 5, Pg. 40.

Life in the slow lane: the joys and benefits of a sabbatical

40Life in the slow lane: the joys and benefits of a sabbaticalBy Franklin J. Smith Jr."Good morning. This is Noah Adams and you're listening to NPR, National Public Radio." I heard these words and threw back the covers. Slowly, I sat up and swung my feet to the floor. Resembling Rodin's "The Thinker" with my elbow on my knee and my chin in my hand, my schedule for the day ran through my mind just like it has every morning for more years than I can remember: executive meeting at 8 a.m., mediation at 10 a.m. and school board meeting at 6:30 p.m. "Typical day," I thought, and I shuffled off to the bathroom.


For 18 years I have been a lawyer. For at least the last 10, on every workday the above scenario has played out. When my feet hit the floor the first thought that fires in my brain is my work schedule. This controlled anxiety exists in stark contrast to the sudden and unexpected flashes of terror that come in the shower, in the middle of the night or at one of my children's soccer games. Is the discovery deadline tomorrow? Did that Notice of Mechanic's Lien get filed? Was the North Lake answer due yesterday? Whether through controlled contemplation or sudden brief terror -- deadlines, production goals, trial pressures, firm management and client expectations keep my life in the fast lane. And it is not the fast lane that Don Henley sang about back in the 70s. It is a fast lane of too many obligations, too much pressure and too little relaxation and reflection. A few years ago I decided I needed to spend some time in the slow lane if I wanted to survive the fast lane.

The plan: adopt a sabbatical policy

The seeds of my sabbatical plans were planted by a friend. His firm has had a sabbatical program for years. Listening to him tell of his sabbatical adventures prompted me to investigate the idea. I learned that sabbaticals are uncommon in our country. They are offered at only 10 percent of the large corporations. I found no data on law firms nationally, but I know they are almost nonexistent in South Carolina. I am aware of only a couple of South Carolina firms that have sabbatical programs.

Undeterred by this paucity of precedent, I obtained a copy of my friend's sabbatical policy. I revised it to make it compatible with our shareholder agree ment and presented it to our firm.

Initially, the idea was given a tepid reception. Like most defense firms, our firm values quality work and rewards for significant billable hours and fees received. The idea of allowing a shareholder to take three months of vacation with pay was not well received. However, like a gnat in your face on a sluggish summer afternoon, I wouldnot go away. After more than a year of discussion and minor revisions, my fellow shareholders capitulated and the sabbatical plan was adopted. Frankly, I think several of them are still skeptical of the whole "sabbatical thing."

The sabbatical policy

Every sabbatical policy will be somewhat different due to a firm's culture, salary and retirement structures and type of business entity. The following are some of the basics of our policy.

* To be eligible you must be a shareholder in the firm for at least 10 years. There is nothing magical about 10 years, but five seems too short and 15 too long. Eight to 10 years seems the most reasonable.

* The length of the sabbatical is three months. In universities and large corporations, six months to one year are more typical sabbatical terms; however; I had no precedent for a South Carolina law firm allowing a sabbatical longer than three months. Understanding that a three-month sabbatical is infinitely better than no sabbatical at all, I was not prepared to...

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