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Work, Life and Everything In Between: Lawyers Share Their Journey

Four lawyers shared their experiences and insights on navigating the legal profession, emphasizing the importance of preparation, critical thinking, emotional intelligence, networking, and time management.

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Jun 24, 2024

An Inside Look at Legal Careers: Takeaways from a Panel of Experienced Attorneys  

 

The speakers shared their experiences and insights on navigating the legal profession, emphasizing the importance of preparation, critical thinking, emotional intelligence, networking, and time management. 

 

Overview

  • Dreams Delayed, Skills Developed: One speaker shared their experience of pursuing a dream to teach, ultimately finding a fulfilling role after legal practice experiences broadened their skillset. This highlights the transferable nature of a law degree and the unexpected paths a legal career can take.

  • The Legal Bootcamp: Another speaker detailed their path through the legal system, from obtaining qualifications to navigating the stages of pupillage and practice areas like litigation and corporate law. This journey emphasizes the importance of perseverance and continuous learning in the legal field.

  • The Juggling Act: Balancing multiple tasks, deadlines, and client needs is a core skill for junior lawyers. As one speaker aptly described it, it's like juggling – keeping all the balls in the air. Effective time management and prioritization are essential.

  • Taking Ownership: Junior lawyers are entrusted with real responsibilities. As one speaker emphasized, they are professionals who need to take ownership of their files and approach their work with a sense of responsibility for the client's best interests.

  • Asking for Help: Don't be afraid to ask for help! This message resonated across the discussions. A supportive work environment encourages junior lawyers to seek assistance when overwhelmed, fostering collaboration and preventing burnout.

  • Boundaries and Balance: Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is crucial for avoiding burnout. Setting boundaries with work hours and pursuing personal interests were emphasized by one speaker who prioritizes their team's well-being alongside professional success.

 

Profiles of the Four Lawyers:

 

Lawrence: Lecturer at Singapore University of Social Sciences. Began career in banking and finance litigation before transitioning to corporate law and eventually teaching.

 

Valerie: Lawyer with 25+ years of experience. Worked in private practice, government, and in-house counsel for a multinational corporation. Currently operates as a legal consultant.

 

Glenda: Lawyer with 5 years of experience in general litigation. Focuses on data and title disputes, construction law (condominium disputes), and other areas.

 

Sean: Director at their own Law firm. Specialises in dispute resolution (litigation, arbitration, mediation). Handles a variety of cases including white-collar crime, family law, construction disputes, and contract drafting.

 


 

How speakers got into law school, with varied reasons and experiences


Glenda:

Back then, when applying for universities, I just focused on my test results. I figured the only two subjects I excelled at were general paper and geography. So, it was a choice between geography and law.

 

I spoke to my mom about it, and she wasn't sure what career options a geography degree offered besides teaching. Since I tried tutoring once and know I'm not cut out for teaching, that path wasn't for me.

 

This is why I recommend talking to people when you're choosing a course. Go to open houses, chat with family members, or even talk to students in the program you're considering. This will help you understand your options better and make a more informed decision.

 

I followed this advice and attended open houses, spoke to students, and even talked to my aunt who works in a law firm. That's when I realized, as Valerie mentioned, that a law degree opens many doors. You don't have to become a lawyer in the traditional sense. There are people I know who have law degrees and are very successful in business development roles.

 


Valerie:

To be perfectly honest, law wasn't always the plan. Originally, I was really drawn to economics, or maybe even psychology. Economics was definitely my favorite, though.

 

Anyway, when it came time to apply, I, well, I do enjoy a good debate with friends, right? So I thought, why not just throw law in as my first choice? I figured I probably wouldn't get in – the interview process, the written stuff, all that – but I gave it a shot anyway. And guess what? I got in!  It was a surprise for sure, considering I was thinking economist all along.

 

But you know, over the years, something people say about law school rings true: the skill set you learn, both during your studies and as a practicing lawyer, is incredibly transferable. It really trains your thinking process, and over time as a lawyer, you sharpen that legal mind, right?

 

That legal perspective and those critical thinking skills you develop? They become really valuable.  And the experience you gain? It translates well to other fields. Lawyers can move smoothly into related areas like compliance or brand management, or even completely unrelated fields.  Lots of lawyers even end up starting their own businesses! My law school buddy, for example, owns Awfully Chocolate! Can you believe it?

 

Lawyer’s Caseload and Work-Life Balance 

 

Interviewer: I'm curious about work-life balance, or perhaps work-life harmony. Specifically, how many cases are typically assigned to you or your team? What are the typical working hours like? Essentially, I'm hoping to get a better understanding of a lawyer's workload and how, if possible, you manage to maintain some kind of social life.

 

 

Glenda:

When I saw the question about workload, I checked my files. It might sound overwhelming, but I currently have around 50 cases, although not all are very active. This is probably a typical workload for me, but there are definitely ups and downs. Sometimes deadlines pile up in the same week, which is unavoidable. In those situations, you just have to roll with the punches.

 

To manage my time, I prioritize scheduling. For example, I take Japanese classes on Thursdays. I clearly communicate this to my boss, colleagues, and clients, letting them know Thursday evenings are off-limits. Setting boundaries is key.

 

Luckily, I have a very understanding boss who allows flexible work arrangements, as long as we communicate beforehand. Working from home options are a huge help in finding a balance between work and personal life.

 

Valerie:

To add some real-world examples, my case list can easily reach 80. I remember struggling to create a handover list for a leave of absence – even within the company, not at a law firm – and it still had a staggering 78 cases! This highlights that the idea of in-house lawyers having lighter workloads and better hours isn't always true.

 

The reality is, you'll likely have 70-80 cases on your plate at any given time, maybe more. It's not about constant 16-hour days, but there will be periods requiring intense work. Like Sean mentioned, you might pull 20-hour shifts for a few days straight to meet a critical deadline.

 

Balancing Work and Life:

As a young lawyer, I went through similar experiences. My first year involved a crazy due diligence project. We worked from 8 am to 4 am for three days straight, followed by a short break before returning. It was intense, but manageable because I felt young and invincible.

The key is to work smart, not just hard. Prioritize tasks effectively. While there's pressure, much of it comes from wanting to maintain high professional standards and client satisfaction. Most bosses are understanding.

 

My Advice:

 

Here's what I tell my team:

  • Prioritize: The world keeps turning even when you're not there, but don't abandon your work.
  • Use your vacation time: Don't let it go to waste. Plan it in advance to manage your personal life.
  • Schedule personal time: Birthdays, family events, hobbies – make time for these things!
  • Take control: Manage your time effectively. If you don't, it will control you.

Yes, the workload can be heavy, but it's also rewarding. There will be tough moments, but you'll find ways to cope, and the camaraderie within the profession can be a great source of support.


Sean on Being a Junior Lawyer: Juggling and Responsibility

They drilled this into us from the beginning as junior lawyers. They always say it's like being a juggler, right? You have to keep all the balls in the air, not let any of them crash. In any case you work on, there are elements where you prepare something, send it off – whether to the other side or the client for review.

But you don't just sit around waiting. You're concurrently working on other matters. Time management is crucial, of course, but so is a sense of responsibility and ownership.

 

As junior lawyers or pupils, they hammered it into us: you have a law degree, you're called to the bar – you are a professional in your own right. You need to take charge and own the files you're handling. These may be the firm's clients, but imagine if you were the client needing help. Would you give your best effort, or just see it as a nine-to-five job?

 

This mindset can lead to burnout. I confess, there were times I just needed a break. But we'll get to that in a bit.

 

Prioritizing, Ownership, and Asking for Help

The key is this: while you may have many cases, it's about prioritizing and taking ownership. If you're overwhelmed, please, please, please ask for help. Don't worry your boss will think you're incompetent.

Here's why: if you're stretched thin and can't give your best, the client suffers. They get subpar service, and worse, you or the firm could be exposed to liability. Your bosses need to be kept informed. They can reassign the file, have someone work with you, or negotiate extensions with the court, client, or opposing side. This ensures you don't harm yourself or the firm.

 

Burnout and Maintaining Boundaries

Set aside time for your own interests. Pursue something outside of law. Otherwise, you risk being consumed by it, living and breathing law, becoming one-dimensional. Find time for something you enjoy, and set boundaries.

 

Don't be afraid to let your superiors know. I tell my staff, "Look, I don't care when or where you get the work done, as long as it's good quality. If you're most productive from 1 to 3 AM, fine. Just show up at work at nine the next day."

 

The idea is to ensure good quality work, meet deadlines, and maintain sanity. My team should be able to spend time with family as well.

 

Being a lawyer doesn't have to be a miserable, 16-hour-a-day existence. Yes, there will be periods with deadlines that coincide, creating a perfect storm. That's when the juggling skills come in again. But there are also calmer periods where you can take leave, recharge, and come back refreshed, ready to go again.

 

Teamwork in the Law Profession

Interviewer: How frequently do you collaborate with other lawyers?  In these collaborative situations, what typical tasks or projects do you work on together?

 

Glenda: 

The complexity of a case determines how many lawyers are assigned. Recently, I had a complex 28-day trial with multiple witnesses, requiring a team of three lawyers.  Working together meant dividing the workload, which was essential because a partner and I wouldn't have been able to manage it alone.

 

Fortunately, for simpler matters, my supervisor grants me autonomy. I handle these cases independently, but he maintains a supervisory role. If I have any uncertainties, I can always reach out to him or colleagues, not just those on the case.  Bouncing ideas off colleagues can often lead to better solutions for clients.

 

Sean: Working with Different Lawyers

Let me add my experience as an in-house lawyer. I work with various types of lawyers:

  • In-house lawyers: Myself and colleagues within my company.
  • Other company's in-house lawyers: During contract negotiations with other businesses.
  • External lawyers: When we need specialized legal advice from firms like Sean and Glenda's.

Collaboration is Key

We collaborate with all these lawyers, but my role differs depending on who I'm working with:

  • Internal lawyers: We discuss how to solve business problems for our company.
  • External lawyers: I act as a bridge, ensuring clear communication and efficient use of resources. I manage expectations and avoid unnecessary costs.

The Importance of Professionalism

It's not just about the number of lawyers you interact with; it's about understanding your role in each relationship. In-house lawyers are part of a larger legal community, and we often encounter the same colleagues throughout our careers. Maintaining professional relationships is key.

 

Conclusion: 

For students considering a career in law, the legal profession offers a stimulating intellectual environment, the chance to advocate for others, and the potential to make a real impact. While demanding, it can also be incredibly rewarding.

 

This post serves as a compass, guiding you towards the essential skills for success. Remember, a law degree equips you with valuable transferable skills, even if your path takes an unexpected turn. So, if you're drawn to the challenges and opportunities law presents, take the leap! With dedication, perseverance, and the right tools in your belt, you can navigate the journey from law student to legal eagle and build a fulfilling career in law.

 

Interested in finding out more about Law programmes? Schedule a no-obligation consult with us to chat about your future aspirations. 



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