Dear Amicus Agony,
I’m a second year associate who was, not too long ago, really excited to start practice. I generally enjoy the work that I do but find increasingly that my time is not my own anymore. Both the clients and my bosses are able to reach me anytime on my mobile, even on weekends and public holidays. I deliberately do not answer calls on these days but come Monday, will be snidely told off by my bosses that being on-call past working hours is “part and parcel of being a young associate”. I understand that some matters are time-sensitive, and I can be flexible to accommodate this but surely being expected to be on standby every weekend is too much? I have had to cancel weekend plans and walk out on family dinners just to attend these meetings, most of which I feel could have taken place during the work week.
Am I the only one feeling this way?
Dear Frustrated Fred,
Firstly, it’s refreshing to hear that you are enjoying practice so far!
Rest assured that you are not alone here – we should not apologise for time away from our screens and desks to recharge at the end of the week.
This may not be easy to do, but I think that having a heart to heart with your bosses to clear the air may help as a start. Reassure them that you pride yourself in your work and that as far as possible, you are top of your files and deadlines. However, let them know that sustaining yourself in practice for the long haul involves balancing necessary personal time with work.
Perhaps have an open discussion as to the types of urgent work or matters that merit discussion over weekends (e.g. involving an M&A closing or court-imposed deadlines) and those that can wait till the start of the work week (e.g. instructions from the client or internal liaisons on matter handling). While I cannot promise that your weekends will remain untouched, hopefully, this will help to create a workable system built on mutual respect of protected time between you and your bosses.
Dear Amicus Agony,
I’m a third year corporate associate who is on the fence with moving to “greener pastures” as in-house counsel. I don’t know if this is a premature move as I can’t say that I’m jaded with practice just yet. I am, however, very attracted to the prospect of better work-life balance that I’m told in-house practitioners enjoy. Should I take my time to stay in practice for a few more years or should I make the jump now if and when a good opportunity presents itself?
Dear Eager Beaver,
Onward to bigger and better I always say!
While better work-life balance is most certainly a welcome bonus, I’d suggest not having that as the only consideration in weighing your decision. The art of practice is almost entirely a different ballgame than the skillset required when going in-house. Often the case, any work-life balance (or integration for that matter) depends on organisational culture and business demands. To that end, it is difficult to say for certain that a role change will guarantee the outcome that you’re looking for.
I’d suggest approaching this from a different perspective instead and consider the following – what can you bring to the table as counsel with your current skills and what opportunities will you be exposed to in the new environment. Having been in corporate practice for a few years now, you have a good grasp of how corporations/organisations function and what is important for the run of their business from a third party perspective. Being a part of the business itself though puts you in a privileged position as an “insider”. Commercial savvy becomes the name of the game. Consider if this is something you feel you would like to be part of and see if that prospect excites you. Talk to your peers who have crossed that bridge and get their thoughts as well. Alternatively, you may want to entrench yourself in practice and wait a few more years to move in-house at a more senior level.
I wish you all the best!
Readers may find the following articles relevant to this topic:
The Transition from Lawyer to In-house Counsel
The Junior Counsel Survival Guide
Letter from a Corporate Lawyer
Both Sides Now: In Conversation with Mr Adrian Tan and Mr Anil Changaroth