As pretty much everyone already knows, this past Monday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day. As such, stock markets were closed, the courts were shuttered, and the mail was not delivered. I am pretty sure there wasn’t free parking in New York City that day, but that’s another story! I expected that the day would be quiet since attorneys and staff presumably get the day off. However, to my surprise, many associates and staff with whom I interact needed to work on MLK Day, and more law firms should give attorneys and staff the day off in honor of the holiday.
I wrote an article a few weeks ago about how more people should have been able to observe New Year’s Day on January 2nd since New Year’s Day fell on a weekend this year. Workers do not have too many work holidays during the year, so it is important that law firms honor the holidays and give people the day off so that people can get a break from work in regular intervals throughout the year. What’s interesting to me is that more people seemed to observe January 2nd as a holiday than did MLK Day this week! Of course, it makes sense that people might need an extra day to recover from their New Year’s Eve festivities, and this could explain why more people took off on January 2nd than seemingly took off for MLK Day.
However, MLK Day is an actual holiday that has been on the books longer than people have seemingly observed holidays on the Monday following the weekend in which a holiday falls. People have likely observed MLK Day for decades as they progressed through grade school, college, and law school. Accordingly, it was perplexing to me that so many associates had to work on MLK Day even though so many government offices and other workplaces were closed.
In my experience, lawyers and staff from almost each part of the legal profession worked on MLK Day. I thought that this day would be quiet, which I was looking forward to so that I could catch up on work that I had been delaying for some time. To my surprise, this past Monday was almost as busy as any other Monday, and I got phone calls and emails all day from different types of lawyers.
I interacted with some lawyers in Biglaw who were in their offices despite the fact that this past Monday was a federal holiday. I also communicated with some lawyers who work at smaller law firms that had to work this past Monday. The only lawyers who did not seem to work this past Monday were government lawyers. I had oral argument last week, and I was wondering when the court would upload an order. The court did not upload the order on Monday, likely because it was observing MLK Day. After the holiday, the court did get to uploading the order, and it was clear that court staff had the day off, which is great since this is a recognized holiday.
Law firm management might explicitly or implicitly require associates and staff to work on MLK Day for a number of reasons. Perhaps most importantly, we are at the beginning of the year, and partners may want associates to bill as many hours as possible early on so that they can get off to a good start when it comes to generating revenue for a firm. Moreover, law firms may want to have their associates be available to clients who might not be observing the holiday. It is true that many businesses might not celebrate MLK Day, and they may want to reach out to their counsel on that day since some legal needs cannot wait. However, associates often do not need to be at an office or actively working at home to answer emergent questions that a client might have.
All told, it is definitely difficult to maintain work-life balance in the modern workplace, and this is even more difficult when managers do not respect traditional holidays and give associates and staff the day off. Accordingly, more law firms should give their employees the day off for holidays like MLK Day.
Jordan Rothman is a partner of The Rothman Law Firm, a full-service New York and New Jersey law firm. He is also the founder of Student Debt Diaries, a website discussing how he paid off his student loans. You can reach Jordan through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.