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Unlimited Vacation Policy: A Perk or Punishment at Law Firms?

Jack Newsham LAW.COM

What’s not to like about unlimited vacation? Ask a Big Law associate, and you might find that the answer is “a lot.”

Associates of at least 11 big firms expressed disapproval with unlimited vacation policies, according to submissions from The American Lawyer’s Midlevel Associates Survey. Young lawyers say they want work-life balance, but what sounds like a promising policy has been a source of stress and worry to many junior lawyers.

“Unlimited vacation is a joke,” a Mayer Brown respondent wrote. “No one takes it, or you end up taking less than you would if there [were] a traditional vacation policy.”

“Actually [have] a vacation policy rather than ‘take what you dare!’” a Dorsey & Whitney lawyer said in response to a question about what they would like to tell the managing partner.

“Switch from unlimited vacation to a specific number of PTO days,” a Latham & Watkins lawyer suggested.

About 20% of big firms offer unlimited vacation time for associates, said Kate Reder Sheikh, a San Francisco legal recruiter at Major, Lindsey & Africa who focuses on placing associates, adding it’s an “emerging” trend within the legal industry that could recede due to some backlash.

At most firms, she said, associates get an average of three weeks off a year, with some firms offering two or four. In these cases, most associates are still accruing vacation days or paid time off in the traditional manner, as they work.

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