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To think that a career in law is incompatible with family life?

(127 Posts)
musingsofawannabemumpreneur Thu 29-Dec-16 10:20:40

Back story...

I'm in my late 20s, and have a 9 year old son. Currently 3 years out of 4 through a part time law degree. The deadline for applying for training contracts when I'd need one is fast approaching.

The more I look into it, the more I can't fathom how both undertaking a training contract and a subsequent career in law will be possible with family life. From what I can gather, it's all very long hours, with chances of flexible working only available to established lawyers already working for firms, late nights par for the course, and chances of promotion extremely slim for part time workers. AIBU?

I don't want to head further down this path to realise it's not compatible with having a family at all, but also don't want my degree to be wasted.

Another piece of information which might be pertinent is that I have recently had ovarian reserve tests done, which show that I have a very, very diminished ovarian reserve for my age, and so if I want more babies (which I think I do!), then I'll definitely need to start thinking about that sooner rather than later.

I'm feeling totally overwhelmed and bereft about this today. Currently sat in a shopping centre car park trying not to cry as just feel so lost with my options. Very unsure about what I want to actually do with my life!

Would anyone in the legal field be able to offer their honest advice or opinions please?

VladmirsPoutine Thu 29-Dec-16 10:24:41

Not everyone that has a law degree becomes a practising lawyer - there are many sectors of law that are if not fully compatible, a bit better with a work/life balance. You could work in-house for example.
The type of law you're talking about is most likely commercial, big city stuff - which tbh doesn't allow for a lot of down time, but on the flip side is highly rewarded.

RitaCrudgington Thu 29-Dec-16 10:32:07

I can't offer the detailed advice on training contracts that you ask for (but I'm sure someone will be along in a minute who can). But I'm here to bump and to reassure you that even if you don't formally train as a solicitor, there are a good number of family friendly office jobs where a law degree will be very helpful. HR for example, or insurance claims, HMRC graduate trainee posts, or even retail management. Speaking here as someone who uses their law conversion course every day in a non-legal family-friendly career. I shared a student house with two other girls doing law degrees - neither of whom went on to do law, but both of whom went on to good careers (and babies).

Good luck.

harrietm87 Thu 29-Dec-16 10:34:46

Are you in London OP? I'm a solicitor in the city about your age. TBH if I had known the reality of this job I wouldn't have done it - the hours can be brutal. A good day is leaving at 7/7.30. A bad day is not going home at all. The women who have children have full time live in nannies. Even though I'm extremely well-paid I couldn't afford that until I get more senior. None of the trainees or even anyone at my level (3pqe) has children. The work can be interesting and the pay is good but for me it's not worth it for the quality of life I have. I will be having kids soon, enjoying the generous mat package, and leaving.

Things are different in smaller firms, outside the city, in-house and in the public sector. But there are downsides to all of those and everything is extremely competitive.

A law degree is a valuable thing though and will be a great foundation for lots of varied careers.

Have you done any work exp? Can you apply for vac schemes?

unlimiteddilutingjuice Thu 29-Dec-16 10:36:59

I had this same dilemma OP. It took me 7 years ro get that bloody OU law degree. I decided to have a baby rather than go on to do the legal practice course and I worked in Welfare Rights which is fascinating, technically complex law but doesn't require rights of audience.
The wages are respectable but not Stella (25,000 to 30,000) and the hours are comparable with family life.
I moved from that to working as a constituency caseworker for an MP which is similarly fascinating, family friendly and modestly paid.
Once the youngest is at Primary I'm considering putting myself forward to stand as a councillor which is a ridiculous all hours job for peanuts! But one which I would love!

ContraryToPopularBelief Thu 29-Dec-16 10:38:24

A law degree is still a very good degree to have and will open doors to many careers. However, my experience (friend is a solicitor and BIL is a barrister) is that it is not particularly family friendly. BIL and SIL have children but SIL didn't return to work as BIL cannot be relied upon to do any drop offs or pick ups re childcare due to the nature of his working environment.

musingsofawannabemumpreneur Thu 29-Dec-16 10:39:37

Thanks for replies.

@harrietm87 - sorry, can't work out how to tag! Not in London, around 1 hour away by train. Your experience sounds like what I'm dreading, and yes I've come to the realisation that other trainees would be younger and likely childless!

I've worked in in-house Legal departments before (not as a lawyer) but even there the lawyers were working ridiculous hours and I know in-House training contracts are almost non-existent, especially to outside applicants.

Has anyone gone into any other careers where a law degree has been useful?

BikeRunSki Thu 29-Dec-16 10:39:42

My DM trained as a barrister whilst raising 4 dc (she used to leave me in my carrycot behind the till in the College of Law bookshop!). She was lucky to get a pupillage on a relatively "local" circuit. Having qualified, this proved to be impossible. This was 1980s though.

I work for a large public body. We have in-house solicitors, who benefit from all the same flex working terms and conditions as everyone else. My dad was also an in-house solicitor in industry. I know a mother who works as a police duty solicitor, and largely works nights. I appreciate that private practice is (probably) the largest employment sector of law graduates, but certainly not the only way.

Zimmerzammerbangbang Thu 29-Dec-16 10:43:17

City law isn't family friendly but city law isn't the only option. I know trainees (large international) who have done it with kids (including me) but it is very tough. You need rock solid child care so either mega bucks or a family who can help.

Two years PQE and I work mainly from home. Still do the hours but definitely compatible with family life. Commercial law is a long hours profession though. If that's not for you look at some of the in-house legal teams (although they're not all better) or maybe the Government scheme? Where hours are lower salary is inevitably lower of course.

Have you done any vacation placements yet?

user1471545174 Thu 29-Dec-16 10:44:53

YANBU unless high street.

harrietm87 Thu 29-Dec-16 10:45:55

OP the thing that I find most difficult (and would be v incompatible with a family) is the unpredictability- some days are slow and I expect to be able to leave at a good time and then something comes in at 5pm and I'm still at my desk at midnight. When you're junior you have to be seen to be keen and volunteer to take as much work as possible. You have a bit more control when more senior.

Your commute would also likely be difficult with childcare and working long hours. Have you got a DP/family support?

Thissameearth Thu 29-Dec-16 10:46:26

Depends on area and sector. I've worked as a lawyer in law centre and in govt. not worked ridiculous hours in either (though you do get busier weeks when you're working longer hours or the odd weekend but in current job we have flexi time so can accrue and take off later). I work full time and earn over £50k (am in Scotland). I don't have kids yet but it's extremely child friendly and loads do with both mothers and fathers working part time or doing compressed hours i.e. 5 days in 4, 9 day fortnights). At my current salary I am extremely fortunate that if we have kids I could afford to go part time and be on same take home pay as full time friends on lower salaries: nursing, retail etc.

Zimmerzammerbangbang Thu 29-Dec-16 10:49:45

Agreed the unpredictability is the killer. No one I know makes weekday evening plans any more!

JunebabyT Thu 29-Dec-16 10:51:49

I think the training contract will be difficult as will City firms, but there are other options as well.

I trained in the City and later moved to a regional office of a City firm, which in my experience is a bit better for work/life balance. Where I am now it is more usual for junior associates and people of all levels to have children, work 4 day weeks or need to leave at a certain time for nursery pick up etc. Many end up logging in to work remotely for a few hours in the evenings which is not great for family life but still more doable than not being able to leave the desk.

I am pregnant with DC1 and have every intention of returning to work, so will be interested to see how it goes... I am the higher earner in our house and DP has more regular hours so will be doing pick ups, but obviously I don't want to be home after bedtime every evening.

Zimmerzammerbangbang Thu 29-Dec-16 10:52:40

As a salary comparison I'm on around 100k at 2PQE. Law generally pays a decent salary but the big bucks go to the jobs wanting the flexibility and hours.

Pigeonpost Thu 29-Dec-16 10:52:52

I quit (large regional firm) when DC3 was about 18 months old. I'd had enough. Did 15 years and worked my way up the ladder as far as I could but there was no way I was going to be able to continue competing with the young guns and the menfolk if I wanted to work part-time. I either felt like I was failing myself in not progressing my career or failing my kids in not being with them enough. So I jacked it in two years ago and haven't looked back. Although I haven't worked since either as I'm currently a SAHM (by choice) but other avenues are opening up to me which have absolutely nothing to do with law whatsoever.

OdinsLoveChild Thu 29-Dec-16 10:57:46

I have a few friends who are solicitors. Some work in family law which seems less erratic than those who work in criminal law. However they all regularly spend late nights at the office and often miss school pick ups and events with their children. One has recently become senior partner and has managed to allocate some of her caseload onto the junior staff which is great for her but not for those working in a junior role.

I think you do need to be able to dedicate a large percentage of your time to it initially and if that's not going to work for you then look for an alternative position. Try the local council for careers, lower pay than private sector but better working conditions. Law degrees can be really useful across lots of sectors including planning, hr, business management, nhs etc They often have more flexible working options.

NotSayingImBatman Thu 29-Dec-16 10:58:34

Private practice is not compatible with family life. I spent seven years in a private firm earning far less than I anticipated in exchange for ridiculous hours and massively stressful billing targets. After DS2 it all got too much and, burned out, I took an unrelated job in local government.

However, I then took an internal move into their legal department which is fab! My hours are the usual 9-5 with the odd late night thrown in but at least it's flexi so I get the time back in lieu. I have a good holiday allowance, a decent pension to look forward to and a boss that believes in her team having a good work/life balance. I still don't earn anything like the huge salary of a city lawyer but I earn more than I was earning in the small private firm I worked in previously.

In short, yes, a career in law can be compatible with family life. You just need to be selective about where you work and realistic about how much you're going to earn.

AllGone Thu 29-Dec-16 10:59:49

I am a lawyer in a city about 4 hours from London. I work in a high street firm three days a week and I get in to work at 8.30am and leave on time at 5pm. In my experience certain areas of law are more compatible with part time hours than others. The area I am in works well with my three days and I work in a very supportive team so I think it is doable.

I was qualified and working full time before I had DS1 and requested part time hours before I returned to work.

PrincessConsuelaTheSecond Thu 29-Dec-16 11:09:19

Honestly? I just quit because they expect too much. The job comes first, family don't matter in that universe.

If you're in private practice you're expected to work long beyond your hours - I was judged not to be committed to the job because I didn't polish chairs with my arse until 7pm. (Yes - having a "presence" in the office is apparently a requirement) hmm it didn't matter that I accomplished far more within my working hours than my male counterparts.

Women are judged negatively quite frequently - but that would never be openly admitted, of course. I also received a third of the salary of my male colleague despite being better at the job than him.

And with a training contract, if you don't show enthusiasm and work really long hours then there's a good chance you won't be offered a position at the end of it.

My view is it isn't compatible unless you're prepared to accept hardly seeing your kids, or not becoming a reasonably paid and senior member of staff. It's fine at paralegal level though.

Lules Thu 29-Dec-16 11:11:49

One of my friends went into NHS management and does legally related work but not legal advice IYSWIM and really likes it. It's busy but sensible hours.

jennymac31 Thu 29-Dec-16 11:14:09

I completed my law degree and Legal Practice Course to qualify as a solicitor but decided not to complete a training contract. Both these qualifications have, however, helped me pursue a number of career avenues.

I worked as a civil servant for 4 years, as an insolvency investigator, before working for an insolvency practitioner. For the last 6 years I have been working in the financial sector, the last two of which have been in legal risk and compliance. I'm on £37k per year, which I'm happy with as I'm based in the South West plus I can work from home so it's been possible to work flexibly whenever by dd has been ill etc. I also think there is a perk in working in the financial sector in that there is scope to move across departments including any in-house legal team.

Chewbecca Thu 29-Dec-16 11:18:36

I have close connections with a local high street law firm, 50ish staff, 5 partners of whom 4 are female. None work long hours at all, in fact they often leave before 5. They are primarily a commercial firm but also do a little property, civil and family, no criminal.

Wages for the salaried staff are nothing like London salaries however but the partners earn very good money for the hours they put in.

I'd stick with the path you are following but look for a reputable local firm.

SingingGoldfinch Thu 29-Dec-16 11:19:22

Haven't read all the replies, so apologies if I'm repeating. I'm not a lawyer myself but my SIL and best friend both are - and both have families. SIL works for a large employment law firm in a major city (not London) - she works long hours and brings work home etc - and also has time working away from home but she does have one day a week off and has had that arrangement since starting in the role. She seems to manage it pretty well but my db does do quite a few school/nursery pick ups etc so not sure she'd manage it without him. My best friend is a partner in a family law firm in the country - she works hard but part time. It's still a stressful job but it's a lot less intense than the city set up. I work for a local authority and many of our lawyers have families and work flexibly - there are lots of areas of specialism to explore there too. I guess what I'm trying to say is that a law degree can lead to a number of different career paths - not just the high-powered city law firm route. You may end up sacrificing salary but I guess it's about balance.

MissBeehiving Thu 29-Dec-16 11:25:01

I'm in a senior post in the public service, which is fascinating and challenging. I chose this on leaving law school and thinking that I would not be able to have children and maintain a career in the way that I wanted to. I have not worked full time since I had DS 2 seven years ago. My flexible working allows me to do the school pick ups and drop offs most days unless there is an emergency or I have something prebooked in so I have arranged childcare. My career progression hasn't been hindered by part time working - the pay is not anywhere near private sector levels but I do have a good work life balance.

I would have a look at public sector jobs - often we are willing to be more flexible on hours to attract good applicants.

Then if you want to go into the private sector later on, then quite a few people do make the switch.

Good luck

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