Here are the key points from Dewey's memo dated December 30, which the firm e-mailed to me Thursday:
Historically, senior counsel, counsel, and associates have accrued vacation days on a monthly basis for a total of up to 20 paid vacation days each year in addition to personal and sick days. In recognition of the flexibility required of you by our clients, we have revised our policy so that it better reflects the realities of life as a practicing lawyer.
Effective January 1, 2011, you will be entitled to take a reasonable amount of paid time off (i.e. vacation, personal, and sick days) over the course of the year, subject to client demands and your other professional obligations and responsibilities. While you will no longer accrue vacation days on a monthly basis, we would expect you to be able to take no less time off than you have been accustomed to.
And what is the rationale for the change? In an e-mail statement, Dewey explained: "We believe that the new policy reflects how our attorneys already manage their time and the realities of life as a practicing lawyer." (Am I missing something here, or does that sound like corporate gobbledy-gook?)
In any case, I'm intrigued by two key details in the memo: (1) Lawyers can take "no less time off than you have been accustomed to," and (2) they will no longer be able to accrue vacation pay. Am I too cynical in thinking that cost savings are at the heart of the policy?
Take the lawyer who's too busy to take the usual four weeks of vacation. Let's say the poor guy only squeezes in a week off at his in-law's house on the Jersey shore. In effect, that lawyer ends up enriching the firm at his own expense--to the tune of three weeks' worth of pay. As my 9-year-old would say, "Do the math."
Is it legal to take away money that's been earned? My employment lawyer buddy says he's "not sure how it would hold up if challenged," adding, "What associate wants to sue his employer?" Dewey's legal theory, he believes, is that there is no "entitlement" to unpaid vacation days because that "entitlement disappeared with the notion of unspecified vacation time."
Will more firms try to get out of paying lawyers for the vacations they've earned? Probably. Reader, do you know other firms that have adopted this kind of policy? And Dewey associates--how do you feel about this new order?
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Photo: Melany Dieterle