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The Singapore Law Gazette

Amicus Agony

Dear Amicus Agony,

I am a first-year associate in a small team. On average, I work six days a week and clock approximately 80 hours each. I feel like Sisyphus; every day is an uphill battle.

Given the psychological stress that I am under, I fear lawyer burn-out and have begun to question whether a long-term career in the law is really for me. This stress that I feel has also filtered into my interpersonal relations with friends and family, who claim that my personality has changed and I have become more difficult to get along with.

Stressed-Out Susan

Dear Stressed-Out Susan,

You are not alone in your anguish – at last year’s Mass Call, the Chief Justice cited a recent study in Britain that found over 90 per cent of 200 young lawyers feel too much emotional or mental pressure at work. What this really boils down to is: where, or rather from whom, does this pressure stem?

The solution to your quandary lies, really, in first determining whether you are overworked by your boss, or if this pressure is, to some extent, self-inflicted. A common factor that contributes to lawyer burn-out (as you put it) is a lack of open communication on professional as well as personal needs and problems between young lawyers and those who manage them.

Incorporating relaxation exercises, brief walks outside, scheduled lunches with friends and physical exercise into your weekly regime can offer you temporary relief, in respect of self-inflicted stress. It is, however, important to address the underlying root cause, if you are being overworked. This may require some basic changes in your work environment. Open communication is imperative to facilitating such changes. Depending on your boss’s individual personality and the firm culture, it may be helpful to raise your lack of work-life balance and other pressures directly to your boss or to a third party, such as a firm ombudsman (if available).

Objectively speaking, it is, ultimately, in both the firm’s as well as your best interests to create a firm culture that encourages collegiality and institutional loyalty, to inspire young lawyers to stay in the long term. If, however, such talks with management prove to be unproductive, you may wish to consider a shift elsewhere, to a different firm where you might experience a higher degree of permanency. If you are considering such a shift, be careful to ask existing employees about the culture at your new potential workplace – you don’t want to end up jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire!

Amicus Agony

Dear Amicus Agony,

I have been at the same law firm since I qualified as a lawyer and I enjoy a good working environment. I get along well with both my bosses and my colleagues, and my clients trust me. I am also given responsibility in handling my own files. However, I can’t help but think that I would like to try something new, perhaps a new working environment, as I have become very comfortable in this one. What should I do?

Too much of a good thing

Dear Too much of a good thing,

First off, congratulations. You seem to have struck jackpot as work lottery goes. I see that you seem to be well liked by your colleagues and your bosses, and your clients seem to be happy with your work as well. There is nothing wrong with wanting to shake things up a bit – that’s how we achieve growth anyway.

You have already listed down all the pros about your current job. Now, you need to ask yourself what is it that you are seeking – you already know that you would like a challenge, so what challenge would you like to take on? A wider scope of work? How about a mentoring role within the firm?

You could speak to your supervisor about taking one or two matters from another department, under the supervision of a partner in that practice area. Of course, this should never be at the expense of your current workload. If your firm offers secondments, why not consider one? In any event, you should have a conversation with your supervisor as to how best you can align your professional goals with the opportunities your firm has to offer.

And if the above does not work, there may be another firm out there for you which may offer you what you are looking for. Before making any decisions to move, remember to conduct your due diligence and weigh your options fully. After all, you seem to enjoy what you do, and you sound like you have a top-notch working environment. Whatever you decide, good luck and know that I’m rooting for you!

Amicus Agony

The Law Gazette is the official publication of the Law Society of Singapore.