My Summer Sabbatical
By Myles Solomon
California Lawyer Magazine
There is always a reason not to do something,” my best friend had often told me. And as I got further along in my legal career and life in general, I realized that those reasons had begun to multiply and accumulate until I wasn’t doing what I really wanted to do.
In 2008 I found myself weighing the pros and cons of taking a sabbatical to fulfill my longtime dream of doing volunteer work in Africa. On the one hand, I had an active caseload with my law firm, as well as clients at my sports agency who depended on me. I worried that being in Africa would mean going “off the grid,” and potentially jeopardizing the close business relationships I’d established. On the other hand, I felt that the reward of taking time off from my job would supersede any difficulties I might face.
My plan was to work with community development organizations that provide fresh water and educational services to the local populations, as well as support services for families and orphans hardest hit by the HIV/AIDS crisis. Summer seemed like the best time to go, because I knew that was when my coaching clients usually don’t need me; they’re taking family vacations.
After several months of soul searching, I made up my mind to go. My law firm was willing to spread my caseload among the other associates during my absence. However, I knew I needed to make sure that the relationships I’d worked so hard to build would not falter in my absence. So early in 2009 I contacted my sports agency clients-college football and basketball coaches-to let them know that I would be in Africa that summer and possibly in a remote place, without electricity or running water. In a worst-case scenario, I warned, I could be out of contact for the entire three-month period. Getting their initial support was critical, and I needed them to know that they’d be in good hands during my absence.
One of the reasons I like representing coaches is that they are supportive of teaching and helping others. So when I told them about my plans, I was pleased, but not surprised, that they assured me they would still be there when I got back and that they believed in the work I intended to do in Africa.
When I arrived in Uganda, I realized that the country I’d imagined-one void of modern technology–was far from reality. Cell phones are everywhere. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see people who have no electricity in their homes charging their mobile phones at makeshift charging stations along the roadside. And you can find Internet access in many places you would not expect. Though I had no running water or electricity for most of my stay in Africa, there was an Internet café just a couple miles down the road from the village where I was working. The connections were slow and the café would often go for days without power, but fortunately every time I needed to send an important email, I was able to.
I maintained communication with my coaching clients via email and cell phone. Each email, text message, or phone call I made was a welcome and appreciated surprise back home. I was able to assure my clients that I could put out any fires even from halfway around the world because I was accessible. The concerns I’d had about losing contact had been for naught.
At the end of my trip, I spent six days climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, another longtime dream of mine. Four-fifths of the way up, I could still get cell-phone service. I’d anticipated traveling to a continent bereft of technology, but instead found a signal stronger than the one at my San Francisco apartment.
Clearly, you can provide service to your clients regardless of where you are in the world-even if it’s 16,000 feet up the side of a mountain. Though getting “off the grid” can be one of the joys of leaving the country, technology let me balance being out of the office with maintaining client contact.
There are always plenty of reasons not to take a sabbatical like the one I had last summer, but one of them doesn’t have to be the fear of losing your current clients or being out of touch.
Myles Solomon is an associate at Bassi Edlin Huie and Blum in San Francisco and president of BMEB Sports Management, Inc.