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Solicitors and Barristers, and even trainees, please tell me about your work/home balance..

(20 Posts)
fairylights Sun 06-Apr-08 16:32:15

A bit of background first (please bear with me!): having worked in various roles doing advice and advocacy work for the last few years I am now doing the Graduate Diploma in Law part time, with the long term intention of becoming a solicitor (I think). I am coming towards the end of my first year, so have another year to go, then the LPC, again probably 2 years PT.
I have one ds who is 17 mo and would dearly love to have a couple more dc, and my plan (very much subject to change!) has been to do all the academic bit whilst my dc are young and then head out into the real world and training contracts/work when they start in school. Obviously, this will mean spreading my course over quite a long time, but I am able to stop and start it (within reason) which is handy as my last pg involved a lot of time in hospital, and obviously it would be nice to have some time at home with any little newborn.
However, I am currently grappling with whether this is a reasonable/logical plan - will the start of my career be fraught with really long hours? Would there be ANY chance of working PT? Will I ever get to see my kids? What childcare do you have? How do you cope with the holidays? Do you ENJOY what you do?!
The reason I am also asking barristers this Q is that my department have suggested I try a mini-pupillage with a local chambers in the summer. I had never considered becoming a barrister and imagine it being very competitive, hard work and long hours. However, the fact that they have suggested this to me has started me wondering..
As I am currently an SAHM I can't imagine the other extreme at all and would just like to hear what your life looks like if you are a solicitor/barrister/trainee. Thanks!
p.s. I would hope to go into immigration/family law, certainly what used to be termed "legal aid" law, rather than any high flying stuff involving business/litigation!! ( no offence to those of you who are doing that though, respect to you )
pps have also posted this in "back to work" - not sure where you would be looking.

redhen Sun 06-Apr-08 20:39:27

Hi there, well done for studying and juggling kids I am doing an LLM at moment and know how tough it is! I'm a solicitor - been one for many years but in the commercial field - for me has not been all that family friendly and I put off having kids until I was older. My own training days were really tough but I worked in a big city firm, I think family law, personal injury or immigration would be a lot more regular family friendly (9 - 6) hours. I think it might be tricky to find part time training contract but once qualified I think it should be possible in the areas you are looking to work in as a high street solicitor - a couple of my friends swapped the city for personal injury work when they had children early on in her career.
The Association of Women Solicitors (Law Society will give your their contact details) can probably put you in touch with some women who have managed just that and who are willing to share their wisdom with you.
I have some barrister friends who have successfully managed to juggle work and children also but they did work full time for many years before going effectively part-time. Problem is I think that if you are at the bar you have to take work you are offered when starting out to build your reputation and as you are self-employed its hard to turn work down. Suggest you do the mini pupillage (I did one years ago and it was a great experience) and try and find out the practical side of things.
As a mother of school age kids it was certainly easier when they were at nursery, school holidays and days which finish at 3.15pm are tricky - there are holiday and after school clubs when the children are a bit older (I think normally about age 6 or 7) but these are quite costly and often the kids just don't want to go - my solution has been employing nannys (you can find temp nannys though they are not cheap) and relying on mother in law to help out but you may find other working mums who are willing to do a nanny share with you - or like my own mum's friends did - take it in turns to take time off in the holidays and look after all of the kids....
Best of luck

sparkleymummy Sun 06-Apr-08 21:29:29

Its hard but it can be done. I'm a solicitor at a large national firm. I work three full days and two mornings in the office and then work an extra half a day in the evenings. I feel that this gives me the time I need with the DCs but means that I can still give clients the attention they need.

I would say however that in order to get the flexibility you want it is generally necessary to go in full time and prove yourself first. I think part time roles are few and far between.

sparkleymummy Sun 06-Apr-08 21:30:48

And I've never heard of anyone having a part time training contract.

chipkid Sun 06-Apr-08 21:40:46

I am a family barrister working part-time. However-I was in practice for many years in a decent set of chambers before having my first child-so I have been able to cut down my hours without losing my reputation.

It would be hard to start up only working part-time. You would need an understanding set of chambers(and finding a place in any chambers these days isn't easy)

Childcare for me is a problem. I quite ofetn travel to different Courts and cannot guarentee what time i will finish. I rely heavily on my husband to collect the children when I get "stuck in court"

The job is unpredicatble-you never know what time you will finish-and there are many evenings spent burning the midnight oil preparing cases for the next day. Also-if you are booked in Court and your child is ill-there is no way you cannot turn up-you need a decent contingency or the stress becomes intolerable.

Legal aid is always under fire-the earnings cannot be guarenteed.

Don't mean to put you off-but it really isn't a very child-friendly job.

Quattrocento Sun 06-Apr-08 21:49:58

My background is in tax, and tbh it has involved years of grind worrying about chargeable hours and amounts billed.

It's been hard and you know I thought it would get easier as the DCs got older but the reverse is true. As I get older I have less stamina too - the really late nights etc take their toll and I don't bounce back the way I used to. In terms of childcare we have family support and an au-pair as our DCs are 8&10.

I do have a good friend who is a barrister in family law - she finds her hours more manageable than I do - being self-employed gives her more control, I think.

I echo the advice posted by everyone on here - you will at some stage have to earn your stripes.

fairylights Mon 07-Apr-08 14:50:43

thanks for the advice all, yes you have told me what I had expected I suppose:
I will have to work long hours and full time to start with, and being a barrister is probably NOT what I want to be doing! But will probably do the mini-pupillage out of interest, just to see what you barristers get up to..
I have started having kids relatively young (well, 27 - i guess thats not so young blush) and in a way wish I had gotten this new career going before having kids, but there we go.
Interesting that everything seems to get more complicated as the dc get older though, somehow I had thought it might be the opposite, which is a shame!
Anyway, thanks.
Any more wisdom welcome!

chipkid Mon 07-Apr-08 15:36:11

I think the older my ds has got the more he has needed me emotionally-that makes it harder to be working until 5 pm at night! Also with homework and afterschool activities the problems increase. At leats when they are nursery age they can stay there until 6pm if necessary and they donot have such a demending social life!

needahand Mon 07-Apr-08 15:47:03

I work in-house (company commercial) so not the same area of expertise. I do "normal hours" and share the childcare my my DH (somedays I finish early to pick up DD, the days DH goes to pick her up I put in some extra hours). Also I can work remotely (i.e from home if needed so quite handy really).

I also worked in a small law firm for about 6 months in Tunbridge Wells and the firm was closing its doors at 17.30 to 18.00 in the evening. The fee-earners' attitude was very different from that of the fee-earners in London as there was no question that they were entitled to have a life. So I suspect it might depend on where you live and the size of the firm you intend to work for. You might not earn as much as Xenia if you go for a smaller firm, but you may have a good work life balance. You can always move firm/take on more work when your kids are more self sufficient

fairylights Mon 07-Apr-08 18:35:29

yes I think I would be happy to be in a small, not very glamourous firm as long as I was doing law that interested me, and I do imagine that once my kids are self sufficient (in about, oh 15-20 years?!) I might still be young enough/not too old to do something more challenging. Didn't realize Xenia was a lawyer, I always read her posts with a certain amount of awe.. which will now increase!
Interesting what you say about nursery chipkid, seeing as I look after my ds all day every day and can't afford nursery I think I have perhaps kidded myself that as he gets older he will need me less.. ah well <sigh>

fairylights Mon 07-Apr-08 18:37:29

ps needahand - just noticed on your profile that you are reading about waterbirth - if its available to you i would highly recommend it, or else you can borrow my birthing pool, i am in Leicester so not so far from you!

needahand Tue 08-Apr-08 15:35:20

Good luck fairylights, if you are very committed I can't see why you wouldn't be able to make it work. You know what they say, when there is a will there is a way.

Re smallish firms, the one I worked for was quite nice and the fee-earners really enjoyed what they were doing (more so than in bigger firm where I have met my share of miserable fee-earners). Don't know much about family law, but if I was average Jo with divorce or custody problems I don't think I would go to a big firm anyway.

Re waterbirth, yes I am thinking about it. I am just waiting confirmation that everything is ok with the baby but hopefully will try for a waterbirth. And thanks for the offer of the pool, I will bear that in mind.

And finally, yes I enjoy what I do (most of the times. But I sometimes go through a phase of thinking I should do something more "worthwile" grin

MrsNOC Tue 12-May-09 09:15:02

Fairylights and Needahand

I don't know if you'll pick up this thread afterall it's a year old.

My DD is now 16months. I returned to work last October and was promoted. This was good at the time but doesn't help me get a training contract. I'm not trying to decide whether to continue looking for a TC or trying for another baby.

Needahand, what is the name of the Kent firm? They sound v reasonable!

silver73 Tue 12-May-09 16:52:23

I'm watching this with interest as I'm just finishing the first year of a part-time GDL at the moment and worried that there may not be any training contract available in 2012 with High Street firms.

estobi1 Wed 20-May-09 23:50:20

I am a part time commercial property lawyer in a high street firm and I am finding it very difficult to get the right balance. I find that on my days off with the children (18 months and 4) I am either cleaning or on the phone to work or certainly it plays on my mind. I feel I have too much on all of the time and as a result I am considering a career change. Clearly there are a lot of very successful women on here who do make it work (and I have a lot of respect for them) but I am finding it very difficult to "have it all". I really do wish you every success

sylar Wed 20-May-09 23:56:01

It is 23.54 and I am still sitting here "working" and will be for another hour (particularly if I keep having breaks!). This is because i left work at 5.30 to pick up the DSs and then didn't get to sit down and recommence work until 8.45. This happens regularly (2-3 times per week).

Trying to have it all is really hard.

Dulciedot Thu 21-May-09 23:47:28

I had a part time training contract and concurrently studied for my LLB and LPC. It was fairly tough.

Think very carefully about legal aid, as a result of the government reforms it is becoming almost unsustainable.

Some employers will offer part time training contracts. The Law Society is also pilotting, I think, a new type of route to qualification which is skills based and not routed to a firm - have a look at their website.

Local authorities can be flexible, a friend of mine leaves work at 2p.m. which enables her to collect her children from school.

AWS has a mentor scheme.

I am very fortunate my job is flexible, but on the downside I am putting off doing the type of work I would like to do until my children are older.

Good luck.

dol1y Thu 04-Jun-09 10:06:32

Don't do it. Sorry for negative reponse but I really would not advise anybody to go down this route if they value family life. To be honest, I'm in a large city practice and you may well find some flexibility in the areas you are looking at. As other posters have mentioned, you will need to earn your stripes. I've had a bad time of it through pregnancy and now on mat leave - cannot bear the thought of going back but have no choice due to financial situation and DH having been made redundant. I also know that I will never be able to prove anything but I had two miscarriages which I feel were caused by the undue stress I was under. I was made to work a 48 hour stretch without sleep whilst pregnant - I miscarried a few days later. I had problems when I was carrying my baby daughter and had people calling me to join teleconferences while I was at hospital waiting for emergency scans. Even in your 'own' time the blackberry doesn't stop. Think carefully about it - I'm an extreme case and very jaded about the profession but I know so many solicitors desperate to get out.

theoriginalmummypoppins Fri 05-Jun-09 10:17:10

I agree with last poster. If you value family life this is not a career for you.

Iam an equity member is a fairly successful regional practice but I work all hours and as the children have got older it has becaome harder to be honest.

It is very difficult to have it all in the professions.

Its one round of being totally knackered and subcontracting your life.

then you have a load of staff to look after at home as well as in the office!!

It will be at least 5 years PQE before you earn your stripes and be prepared to devote your entire life to it in the meantime.

In the good times you may have found a friendly high street practice who was only 9 to 5 but most of these will not survive the current recession I am afraid.

roundincircles Sun 07-Jun-09 20:09:06

I think it depends very much on the area of law your go into and the type of law you do. I know people who have had successful legal careers and even made partner working part time with small children. To be fair the ones who made partner did a fair bit of extra work at evenings /weekends, but they still kept some semblance of a balance. In my area of work I never need to be called when I'm not in the office smile and still have decent work /life balance with goodish (c£40K) salary.

my suggestion - decide what kind of career you want /need (ie. are you prepared to sacrifice family life for a big city career) and then do LOTS of research. my work is really interesting and satisfying, not too stressful, etc. but i'm not going to earn six figure salary.

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