Dear Amicus Agony,
I am a newly qualified associate and I practise disputes. I have been clocking in about 80 hours per week and have been working almost every day.
The partners have high standards and sometimes work that I have spent hours on gets thrown back at me for not being “good enough”. It doesn’t help that the partners sometimes make sarcastic comments, and this really hurts my self-confidence.
I am tired.
My demanding hours have forced me to give up my hobbies and I rarely see my friends and family.
I don’t think I can last the year.
Ticking Time Bomb
Dear Ticking Time Bomb,
Be careful! Continue like this and you will approach burn out faster than you realise.
As a newly qualified associate, it is not unusual to feel like you’ve been thrown to the deep end. You are doing many things for the first time, and it is not surprising that you will struggle in the beginning. This usually leads to taking a longer time to finish a piece of work which means spending longer days and nights on work.
One way to deal with the pressure is to change your mindset. Try to focus on learning and improving. Some partners or seniors may make curt or sarcastic remarks in the heat of moment. In such situations, filter out all unnecessary things and focus instead on the constructive remarks. Keep at it and soon the “scoldings” will become less frequent.
I do not recommend that you give up on your hobbies. With so much to do (and learn), it is tempting to give up everything else and just focus on work. But law is a marathon, not a sprint. Having a life outside of work will help you build a psychological buffer. It adds perspective, which will make you less likely to break down when you face difficulties. It is important that you also take some time to exercise. A healthy body will keep your mind sharp and improve focus.
If these do not help, you might want to raise your concerns to your boss or to the firm’s management. Otherwise, you may want to speak to your friends from other law firms and explore your options. Sometimes it may be better to simply shift to a law firm which can offer a more sustainable work environment.
Dear Amicus Agony,
I never really wanted to be a lawyer; it only became an option after I received my A level results. At the time, I did not know what degree to take and only decided on law because it was the “safest option”.
Now having been called to the Bar, I realise that a lawyer’s job entails long hours and a lot of sacrifice. Given that I have never been passionate about the law, these sacrifices do not seem worth it.
I feel like I’m wasting my life. But I do not want to let my parents down.
Should I quit my job as a lawyer?
This is not an easy question.
You must first ask yourself: How do you wish to see yourself in five years? Does the thought of still being a lawyer then satisfy you? Or does it scare you?
If the thought satisfies you, congratulations! Sounds like no drastic change is needed. However, you should still reflect on why you are feeling unfulfilled. Is it because you are not happy in the practice area you are in? Is it an issue of the firm’s environment? Do you like the type of work you have been doing?
My suggestion is to think about the kind of lawyer you would like to be and work backwards. If you are unable to picture the same, then some trial and error is needed.
Talk to your peers and seniors to find out what kind of options are out there and ask yourself which of these options you find attractive. Are there any law firms that can help you work towards your goals?
If the thought of being a lawyer in five years scares you, you might want to consider taking the leap out of law. While it is good that you take your parents’ views into account, you do not want to regret wasting your time in a career that is not fulfilling five years down the road.
Taking the leap of faith and leaving the law can be done in stages: by first moving to an in-house role for example, and thereafter to a non-legal role within the same organisation; or it could be done by simply applying for jobs in your industry of choice.
Ultimately the answer to your question hinges on what exactly you want out of your career. You should start thinking about this as early as possible as change becomes difficult the older you get. Good luck!