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Law without the hours? Possible?

(27 Posts)
FolkLaw Fri 19-Apr-13 22:12:51

Just hoping for some career advice. I'm completing my law degree and need to decide what next.

Basically, I'm a hard worker, focused, ambitious etc. but the reality is I don't want to be chained to my desk til 2am regularly. I want my weekends and I want to be able to see my DC. I'm not looking for part time and of course, like any job, I expect there to be times when I have to work late/take stuff home. I'd just want that to be the exception.

Does anyone have recommendations for working contracted hours? (I realise that training contracts are hard to come by in every field of law.)

mrsmalcolmreynolds Fri 19-Apr-13 22:41:30

Hi. I'm coming up to 10yrs PQE and have always worked in the City. Although I work in a practice area that is well known to be fairly family friendly I know people in all sorts of different practice areas, private practice, government and in-house. I have to say that short of corporate/finance type work, staying until 2am is very much the exception. So if you're just concerned about very late nights that's quite easy.

However, if you want to reliably be able to leave at 6 say, that is going to be more difficult, but isn't impossible. You might want to think about firms outside London, or if in London mid-sized. Government legal service or in-house also worth a thought. As you say, TC's are hard to come by these days, but extra life experience/demonstrating lateral and life skills will probably help.

Good luck!

Amateurish Sat 20-Apr-13 11:46:33

Try local authority in house work. Flexible hours are often available and working to contracted hours normal. Obviously this is reflected in pay!

munkysea Mon 22-Apr-13 00:48:33

I have friends who are lawyers in regional and national firms. They are not chained to their desks frequently, although they are not in financial, corporate or litigation departments. They are usually done by 6-6.30pm most nights.

Generally lawyers do not do contracted hours at all (they are expected to get the work done, regardless of how late they have to stay), and the people I know who work contracted hours in law firms are secretaries and paralegals. However, there are rare exceptions and I know one or two who have negotiated to be able to work something like 10am-4pm, which seems more like what you are looking for. So it is possible, but it is rare.

I hope you find a position that works for you.

FolkLaw Mon 22-Apr-13 09:58:47

Thanks for responses. I knew when I started my degree that law would be full-on (in fact, that was part of the attraction). However, I want to make sensible choices for myself as I know I won't see my career through if it means I can't see my DCs.

I'm not highly financially motivated so that is less important than interesting work. Also, DH works from home and I don't need to plan around childcare so predictability isn't the issue, more like hours worked overall.

Mendi Tue 23-Apr-13 06:39:01

I'm a litigator for a City firm and generally leave work around 6-6.30. Obviously there are times when an urgent advice needs to be finished, or just before a trial, when I am there till 10pm but that is very much the exception.

Occasionally I work at weekends but that is rare.

For what it's worth, I am also a single mother to 2 x DCs (and have been since before law school) and my employer has always been very good about child-related stuff. I think maybe that's because I arrange life so that it's unusual for child stuff to impinge on work but on the occasions when I do need to work from home because a child is sick, it is always fine.

I am not on the 'mummy track' either, professionally speaking.

I am very lucky, but I'm sure I'm not an unusual case. If you work hard and do well then people will accommodate you. Good luck.

Oh and P.S. when I was looking for a TC as a single mother of 2 infants, quite a few partners laughed and told me to forget it, 'you are an HR nightmare.' But I got one and probably have the 'best' job amongst my law school peers now. So don't be disheartened by that sort of sexist crap.

HollyMadison Tue 23-Apr-13 07:29:58

Yes it is certainly possible to get that in law. Most places I've worked it's been the norm for most to leave by 6:30-7 (although you'd often find that people worked from home later in the evening once they got home). Like any job when you're starting out, you may be a bit of a lackey and have to jump at a moment's notice to stay late and compile a disclosure bundle or whatever. If you work for an international firm or company you may be doing conference calls early morning or late at night. But this isn't confined to just the lawyers. I find that although I can usually finish for the day by 7 and not work later in the evening, I'm actually shattered as I find the day quite intense. It can be a tricky job! Good luck in your career.

BeckAndCall Tue 23-Apr-13 07:34:39

My DH is a lawyer and when he worked in London he'd finish by about 7 most days.

In his now provincial firm, he's home by 6.30 9 times out of 10. - and so are all his colleagues - they just don't put in the long hours anymore - they are determined to be family friendly and have lots of young mums, so it's just part of the culture to finish and be back for dinner.

And they all pop out in the afternoons for the school play/ sports day/ etc etc too

tungthai Tue 23-Apr-13 08:33:07

How do you all manage childcare? Do you have after school nannies? My children do lots of clubs after school so I wouldn't be able to use after school provision.

Mendi Tue 23-Apr-13 08:40:43

My kids have had forgo most after school clubs. Obv if you can afford a nanny, that works, but even at top law firms a trainee wouldn't be able to pay for a nanny on top of rent and bills.

It is true that you can't have it all, unfortunately.

Succubi Tue 23-Apr-13 08:50:42

I am lawyer working in house in the City. My employers are very family friendly. When I told them I was pregnant with my second child they suggested that I work 9:15 to 4:30 whereas previously I was contracted to 5pm.

I take a 30 min lunch break so no reduction in salary. I always leave on time as I have to pick up the children. I can log on at home once the boys are asleep if I need too.

It is possible but after 7 years in private practice I had my fill and I only wish I had gone in house sooner. My experience of private practice is that it remains on the whole family unfriendly.

TiredFeet Tue 23-Apr-13 09:01:39

I work in-house for a local authority, the pay is nothing like a city salary but its ok, I have interesting work, lovely colleagues and very civilised hours. I can work part time and flexible hours. Can always leave on time to get the ds. Any extra work I do in the evenings and this builds up as time off in lieu. Its very family friendly but I'm never going to be rich! I don't mind though as my time with ds is precious. I worked in private practice before I was pregnant but most it was definitely not family friendly.

Xenia Tue 23-Apr-13 13:07:45

We paid for a nanny. It cost 100% of one of our salaries and was well worth it given what I've earned in the 20+ years since then. I work for myself and eat what I kill and do a lot of killing because I love it. Now the children are older it is of course much easier. A bit like Mendi I was hired when pregnant at 5 months (which children of 1 and 3 and provable working childcare arrangements - we paid for a daily nanny). If you're good people want you. If you don't have a sexist husband then he is as much in charge of childcare as you of course and that was so 30 years ago as much as now.

You want interesting work but shorter hours and the money does not matter at all. I always wanted interesting work but the money has always mattered. I was with some Government lawyers in groups once. They used to leave by 5.15pm one day for their in house chess club. It all sounded rather civilised. Absolutely dreadful pay though and no chance of earning £1m a year. Earning a lot of money can make life much easier and may even enable you to work for yourself with total control over your life so I wouldn't knock it and you can end up somewhere very low paid with awful hours. Most important of all get things done in time - get the law firm sponsorship when you are in your law degree ready for your time after that. Too many people mess up simply because they don't plan ahead and think things will fall into their lap.

BranchingOut Tue 23-Apr-13 13:23:24

I think that going in-house after a few years PQE seems to be a good route.

Also, think about the field of work you are likely to be interested in. Does that field operate in an international context, resulting in the need for lots of phone calls across time zones for their lawyers? Do you want to litigate or mostly do advisory work? Where do clients working in that field tend to work/socialise/gather? Do situations that might require legal assistance potentially occur outside working hours? All of this may have an impact on your own working patterns.

I am not a lawyer, but know quite a few of them...Those in-house seem to have the best work-life balance.

DoodleAlley Tue 23-Apr-13 13:46:30

I work in house.

The only caveat I would say is that for many in house lawyers times are tight and you are being expected to do more for less.

It is therefore a difficult environment to move into at present, especially as newly qualified or trainee.

Xenia Tue 23-Apr-13 14:43:06

Do please look to the long terms. Whilst money may not matter now if children become more expensive later or a spouse's income disappears it may matter more and once children have gone and you have 20 years+ of career different considerations might apply. Always play the long game.

Mendi Tue 23-Apr-13 15:35:28

I'd also add that all the in-house lawyers I know are under a lot more pressure than those in private practice. They are often in small teams but service large companies and don't have the secretarial support and paralegals etc to help with research that we have in private practice.

However they do often get equity stakes in their businesses which is nice.

Xenia Tue 23-Apr-13 16:25:12

I speak to loads of in house lawyers and often ask them about it and hours etc and it really does vary. They may be the only lawyer in the whole large company or one of a largish team. They may be in a company where everyone knocks off at 6 or working late most evenings.

bicyclebuiltforfour Tue 23-Apr-13 16:32:40

If you do a TC at a City firm (which is arguably a very good route to go if you can, if only for the CV points...) then the seat you have to do in Corporate/Finance (I'm pretty sure the Law Soc demands this - at least I think it did when I qualified) will be crazy hours. So that's at least 6m of unpredictability and never eating dinner at home.

Otherwise the best seats are those which aren't transaction based. Transaction based means that you have clients paying super high fees wanting things completed yesterday, which translates into lawyers working through the night to get things done. Non-transaction based fields (pensions, tax (to a certain extent), litigation (ditto), employment) generally have longer time frames for things to be done in, meaning fewer surprise late nights and generally better ability to manage your own time (eg choosing to work late Monday in order to get out at 6pm Tuesday).

I worked in a City firm for 3 years and I simply didn't see people leaving at 6pm. Occasionally, sure (generally after a stint of late evenings), but I don't know where all these people are whom other posters seem to be referring to... Lots of people leaving around 7/8pm though.

From my experience I would avoid City firms if you want reliable 'early' finishes.

Mendi Tue 23-Apr-13 16:44:48

I'm one of the 6pm leavers, bicycle. Not every day without fail, but most of the time I'm out before 6.30 and very rarely here after 7.

I do occasionally work from home late night or very early morning to deal with something urgent.

I'm at a top 20 firm.

LulaPalooza Tue 23-Apr-13 16:55:45

I work in-house for a large non-profit organisation. I am contracted to work a 35 hour week, but over the years it has been more like 45 or 50 on a bad week. Still, when I compare that to hours that friends in City firms work I think I'm very fortunate. I work with interesting people doing a job I enjoy. I can wear jeans to work if I want to. I'm wearing a suit today for the first time in about 6 months, because I had an external meeting this morning.

However, as others have said, this is reflected in the rate of pay you get.

But, if I compare my average of 45 hours a week against a corporate lawyer I know who works 80 - 90 hours, is permanently exhausted and on his Blackberry constantly at weekends I know where I would rather be. technically we earn about the same in my view because he does twice as many hours for about twice the salary.

I'm about to take voluntary redundancy and will not be moving into private practice corporate/ commercial for any sort of money.

Succubi Tue 23-Apr-13 16:59:01

I didn't address remuneration in my earlier post but if it helps I consider myself well remunerated. In house work varies substantially depending on the field. In the right field the pay can be rewarding and the hours allow you to have family time. Time in private practice was for me a means to an end.

FreckledLeopard Tue 23-Apr-13 17:05:02

I trained at a Magic Circle firm and then have moved to the regions as an NQ, doing litigation for a City firm, in a regional location. It's really good - great work, lovely people, high profile stuff but also a life. I'm normally out of the office by 6.30pm and my employers are flexible about working from home if necessary. Oh, and I'm a single parent too.

Xenia Tue 23-Apr-13 17:13:09

I would agree with bicycle that generally it can be sensible to take a route that gives you the most options later. I have a daughter in house and one who isn't so lots of comparisons there. What I want for them and all the children is that they make informed choices and have lots of options. In fact with all career advice I want them all to pick jobs which ultimately give you the chance to own and work for yourself. So when one was considering advertising as I know women who have set up their own agencies I quite liked that plan. I work for myself and it works really well. I can work for 2 hours by 8.30am and make what some in house lawyers make in a day. I just left my office to sing some Handel in the room next door at the grand piano because I felt like it. I can take the phone off and lie in the garden for an hour (unless I am very busy).

Obviously you need some expertise and experience in any kind of work before you can generate work on your own but do count that as a future possibility. You then get to choose if you work to age 50 or 80 and no one can sack you.

bicyclebuiltforfour Wed 24-Apr-13 13:57:18

Oh and whilst going inhouse seems like a great solution, bear in mind that a lot of people will be thinking the same thing - meaning that you'll likely need considerable experience to get a role. So you may need to put in the grunt time beforehand.

What practice area are you in Mendi? Sounds like a good gig smile

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