It’s no secret that a career in the legal industry means notoriously long hours. On top of your typical working day of advising clients and strategising, you may find yourself preparing for a case at the weekend if you are in court on a Monday morning, meeting clients out of hours, or conducting research in your own time.
Presenteeism is commonplace. As fee earners, your billables are often correlated to your success and reputation in the firm. Therefore, legal professionals often find they have to bill more hours to stand out from the competition.
Many solicitors and associates feel apprehensive or reluctant to take the next step up the career ladder to become a partner. They witness partners still working 60+ hours a week, as well as shouldering the responsibility of bringing in new clients and managing the financial health of the firm. Equity partners may receive large dividends when the firm has a successful year, but on the other hand, they may also lose out when the firm loses money.
With the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE), we will start seeing a new generation of people entering the legal profession. The SQE will make a career in law more accessible and open the doors to people from all walks of life.
With the influx of this new generation of employees emerging in the workplace, companies need to pay attention to their benefits packages as well as work-life balance. Younger workers are placing a higher value on the importance of work-life balance and flexible working.
If firms fail to instil a healthy work-life culture, not only will they lose out on the best talent, but the legal profession as a whole may see a decline in interest.
We could see an increase in the number of professionals moving to in-house roles, which tend to offer more flexibility than law firms. Flexible working and a better work-life balance has long been an attractive benefit to entice solicitors in-house, sacrificing the larger salaries they could receive at leading firms.
However, the ‘in-house solution’ is not without its faults. Solicitors may still find themselves working at the weekend preparing for meetings, conducting research or working overtime on highly specialised projects. Work-life balance is essential whether you work in-house or in a firm.
There are many steps that legal specialists can take to improve work-life balance, despite long hours being an established part of the profession:
Where possible, delegate work to junior team members or distribute workload based on capacity. Don’t try to take everything on yourself.
Leave work at work
Remember to allow time for personal activities you enjoy and leave work at work. Give yourself time to switch off. There is always a temptation to take work home, and sometimes needs must, but don’t get to the point where you check work emails when you’re getting into bed or eating dinner. Give yourself boundaries and stick to them.
Try having regular short breaks after tasks. When you have a hectic workload, it is tempting to just keep going all day without a break, but this is detrimental and you may find yourself missing key details. Attention to detail is highly important as a solicitor, so make sure you are taking regular breaks, including a reasonable period of time for lunch..
Make full use of your annual leave. As difficult as it can be to let go of your clients for a while and let someone else take over your cases, time off is essential for your mental health and ensuring you have a healthy work-life balance.
Organisation is key. Structure your day so you deal with set tasks at specific times to limit juggling everything at once, which only reduces your productivity.
Try to limit distractions during work hours. If you are working on a particularly time consuming or intense task, put your phone on ‘do not disturb’, try not to check your emails or mobile phone, and give yourself a set amount of time to stay focused. Even just having your mobile phone in sight can reduce productivity.
When choosing a career as a solicitor, you will be aware of the long hours and hard work that goes hand-in-hand with the profession. There is often pressure for solicitors to bill as many hours as possible. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a healthy work-life balance. More organisations are starting to implement strategies to help reduce solicitor burn out and fatigue.
To find your next legal role, or to recruit the best talent, contact your local Reed Legal office.