A Day in the Life of a Busy Practitioner
How to juggle and balance life, work and hobbies
Congratulations on getting called to the Bar. Most of you are probably wondering … SO NOW WHAT? Lawyers are essentially storytellers. Litigation lawyers construct the narratives of our client’s cases and defences. Corporate lawyers decipher impossible ideas and make them practical contractual realities. Nothing can be more illustrative of “so now what” than a story and the story below is inspired by true events.
Disclaimer: Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental (or is it?).
*Beep Beep Beep Beep Beep* I awake from my slumber. My wife XiaoMi, a primary school teacher, has already left for work. Blurry eyed, I feel a warm lick on my face. It was Kucing, my cat. Outside my bedroom door I hear the whining of my dog Ah Gou, a Singapore Special. I chuck on some clothes and stumble out. It is time to walk Ah Gou. I grab my work phone. Thirteen e-mails, 64 Whatsapp messages. This is going to be a long walk.
Protip #1 – Work phone: Get a separate work phone number for clients, e-mails and calendar. Thank me later.
I leave my house ready for the drag of the morning commute. My phone vibrates. It is Cicak, the trainee that was assigned to me to mentor. Probably calling me to get her and our intern, Ah Lian, ice milos … kids. SMH.
“Muthu, can you grab us ice milos on the way in to work. Thanks. Also, Mr Kan Cheong has called us five times. He says he could not get you on your work phone.”
“Sure. Do you want a toy with your ice milos as well?”
“Same lame dad joke, Muthu.”
“Whatever. And yes, I’ll call Mr Spider back.”
Protip #2 – Managing “urgent” clients: Especially for criminal and family law clients. These matters deal with very personal issues and the client may be feeling anxious or overwhelmed. Not everything that feels urgent to a client is going to be actually urgent. However, giving them some attention to address their immediate concerns quickly helps reassure them before their anxieties result in tougher client management down the line. It could either be a quick call or a text message asking them to type out their concerns. I prefer the latter as it also helps the client organise and crystalise their thoughts.
I arrive at the office and I’m immediately ambushed by my secretary, GamerGirl.
“Muthu, several urgent items. First, Cherry from GloryJoyCherish Law called. She spoke to her client and wants to discuss possible settlement for the AM Issues with you. Second, Big Boss wants a meeting with all the Associates, so I have already checked your schedule and given your available dates. Third, the timelines for three clients are coming soon. Cicak told me that she has already given you the drafts for your review last week. Fourth, GoParti needs your help to cover a Crim Mention on tomorrow. Fifth, your friend Evian called to ask if you have gone through the draft agreement for XiamDiu Pte Ltd. Sixth, GotMani has asked if you have capacity to meet his client as the fella also has a divorce issue.”
I inhale and exhale, “Thanks, I would be lost without you.”
“Don’t let your wife hear that. I still want to be invited for Christmas.”
“Haha, okay. The new client at 11.00am still on?”
“Yes, Cicak called him to confirm.”
“Hey Muthu, let me run through with you some initial information before the client arrives.”
“Thanks, Cicak. I would be lost without you.”
Cicak rolls her eyes, “You say that to all of us.”
“Haha. I mean it.”
Protip #3 – Know your client: Whether it is the initial meeting or a pre-trial meeting, you would be a great value add if you understand your client. Google your corporate clients if you are meeting them for the first time. For private clients, drop them a short reminder call the day before the meeting and use the opportunity to get brief information and facts. For pre-trial meetings, refresh your facts before meetings and know where to find the information when your seniors need it.
“That was a long meeting.” Ah Lian quipped.
“Lunch?” I reply. I have a full afternoon at the Family Justice Courts (FJC) with four Case Conferences. I need to eat; the meeting debrief can wait.
Protip #4 – Self-care: You are only useful to your colleagues, bosses, and clients if you are healthy in body and mind. Find time throughout the day to recharge yourself. Take a short walk, grab a kopi/teh, do some exercise, EAT, have quick nap or simply take a break to zone-out.
I arrive at the FJC and head to the third floor. This was the thing I dreaded most pre-pandemic. Physically attending case conferences at FJC. I love the current Zoom so much better.
“Oui! Why you look so stressed out?” came a familiar voice. It was my former colleague Rachel.
“A few of us are sitting over there. Apparently Cyrus has some interesting stuff to share, come and join us.”
“Sure, I’ll head over after I take my queue numbers.”
Protip #5 – Network at court: Not every day is going to be an exciting Hearing or Trial. Most days are going to be boring Case Management Conferences, Case Conferences, Pre-trial Conferences, or Mentions. Hours would be spent waiting for your queue number only to go into chambers for five minutes. You can either spend that time being anti-social and bang out work on your laptop or talk to people. While I love the current Zoom situation, however, a good friend once said that the current situation robs many newly called lawyers of the opportunity to network at court. I could not agree more. I strongly suggest that once we can return to court, you should take the time to get to know your peers. We are after all one big community. We may be adversaries in court, but I think we would be a better profession if we take the time to make connections and strengthen our collegiate environment.
I finally have some peace. No more client calls and meetings. I can start working on those drafts which are due soon before GamerGirl comes after me again. I grab a quick bite and get into the zone.
I finally finish drafting the final client’s Affidavit. I open my to-do list and check my schedule for tomorrow. One Case Conference and the Crim Mention for GoParti in the morning. Looks like I have to pack the files and bring home my jacket and tie. There’s also a client meeting at 3pm. I’ll ask Cicak to drop a reminder to the client tomorrow morning.
Protip #6 – Review tomorrow’s to-do list and schedule: There are some days when you wake up anxious, like you forgot a deadline or you feel you are late for court. What I have found helpful is to review my to-do list for the next day before I knock off from work. This helps me organise and visualise what I have to do the following day. If I have court early in the morning, I would know to bring the files home so that I can head straight to court. If I have a deadline due, I would know what instructions to give my support staff.
To most, this seems like an endless day. To me, it is just another Thursday. However, it is not all gloomy; Thursday means that Friday and the weekend is coming soon. On Friday I will catch up with the mates; Saturday morning is my brunch date with the missus; Saturday evening I take a trek with Ah Gou, and Sunday will be my Ah Ma’s birthday celebration. I smile and look up at the bright lights of Shenton Way … I am going home.
Protip #7 – Have a highlight of the week: This can be a birthday celebration, date night, a kopi session, weekend trekking/cycling, a jaunt to Tanjong Beach Club for the gram, family gatherings, or even just “me” time. Work is work, and some weeks are going to be harder. However, having a highlight every week gives you something to look forward to at the start of each week.
Everyone’s experience will be different, but I hope the above Protips are helpful for you to figure out how to navigate the first few steps in the profession. You will make mistakes, you will feel overwhelmed, you will feel exhausted, you may even think that you are not good enough. However, never stray from your values and moral compass. People will recognise hard work, grit, enthusiasm, humility, sincerity, integrity and good faith. Ultimately, you must find purpose and meaning in your work in order to survive and even thrive in your career. I wish all of you the greatest success, and a warm welcome to the Bar.