Should Law Firms Offer Sabbaticals? Why They Are a Win-Win for KO Team Members and Clients
- Brad L. Schoenfeld
- February 23, 2022
Imagine stepping away from your job for two full months, with full pay and benefits, while all your work is covered by your team. That’s sixty days with no Zoom meetings, calls or emails – and it’s something that’s hard to imagine for most people. That’s because most professionals have never experienced this incredibly valuable opportunity to disconnect from their work in a way that allows them to truly recharge.
But, for the team at KO, the law firm’s sabbatical program isn’t an imaginary scenario, it’s a key facet of the company’s culture for the entire team: partners, attorneys, paralegals and operational staff alike. Available to anyone who’s been with the firm for at least seven years (and every seven years thereafter), the program reinforces KO’s long-term commitment to both their team, and their clients.
KO Partner Brad Schoenfeld, who took a sabbatical in the summer of 2021, shares his recent experience and why KO’s approach to sabbaticals is delivering in big ways for the firm and its clients.
The value of sabbaticals over ‘unlimited’ vacation policies
An “always on” work culture became even more demanding for many professionals during the pandemic as work-life boundaries all but evaporated. “Our jobs are nonstop,” says Schoenfeld. “We’re passionate about being there for clients whenever they need help, and there’s rarely a schedule for that. But that’s also why it’s so important to ensure our team gets time to reset and recharge.”
This is a philosophy that’s far too rare across the US: only 16% of companies offer sabbaticals, per the Society for Human Resource Management, and even fewer – just 5% of companies – offer paid sabbaticals.
At the same time, “unlimited” vacation or paid time off (PTO) policies are now commonplace, but often come with the unwritten rule that people who take more than the bare minimum vacation time do so at their own career peril. In fact, data shows those with unlimited PTO often take fewer days off each year than those with a defined number of days off.
“A sabbatical is very different than going on a long vacation,” notes Schoenfeld. “There were people who didn’t believe I could do it, but I did not answer emails or do any work for two months. And the experience was amazing.”
A team commitment that benefits everyone
The sabbatical program has been a key component of KO’s work culture since day one, and that means the whole team truly buys into the commitment it takes to make it work. The KO team actively encourages and plans for each person’s leave, empowering those taking a sabbatical to truly unplug and enjoy their time off without the stress of a huge workload piling up.
“Having the opportunity to truly step away, recharge and get refreshed was great for me and my family. It’s also great for our clients, because we come back re-energized and ready to work harder than ever to help them.”
Each team, from partners and attorneys to paralegals and support staff, works together with clients so that no one misses a beat when one person steps away. And team members are happy to pitch in, knowing the favor will be returned when it’s their turn.
As a result, people not only take the well-deserved time, they do it “right,” by completely disconnecting from the firm’s day-to-day business as Schoenfeld did. Numerous employees across a variety of roles have taken advantage of this perk in recent years, and several team members have sabbaticals planned for 2022.
“KO has always been committed to doing things differently,” Schoenfeld explains. “And that has made all the difference in our ability to hire and retain a team of top-notch attorneys, paralegals and support staff so that we can take on extraordinary clients, and build successful, long-term relationships with them.”
Even a pandemic-style sabbatical delivers immeasurable value
Schoenfeld’s initial sabbatical plans for summer 2020 were co-opted by the pandemic: a month in Europe with his family and the celebration of his daughter’s high school graduation turned into a two-month Colorado staycation that didn’t start until 2021.
Still, the big benefit proved to be in the little things. He recounted the joy of driving his son to school, frequent long walks with his wife and their two dogs, and even stand-up paddle boarding on the Colorado River. He was also able to take a very meaningful, multi-generational golf trip to Asheville, North Carolina, with his father, brother, son, nephew and cousins where he described the unique feeling of being “truly present” without any worries about work, clients or emails. Schoenfeld jokes that he learned “the more you play golf, you don’t necessarily improve — you just get more frustrated.”
On his return to the office, clients validated the approach with positive feedback: he was missed, and they were glad he was back, but his colleagues didn’t miss a beat in supporting them while he was out.