Working 9 to 5!
So, it is nearly the end of the first month of 2010, and what a start it has been. The general theme seems to be that things are busy. Whether it be corporate or litigation, IP or regulatory, work is coming in and coming in fast. Although there may be quite a few out there looking for work, that doesn’t mean that the work stops for those employed.
In fact, what seems to be a direct correlation of the past year’s law firm cullings is that everyone has more than enough on their plate. And I mean in some cases, to the point where they are regularly working weekends.
Fortunately I am not one of those weekend wonderers. The business division I work in was recently restructured so that our dedicated legal team are now receiving work from a different division which used to be serviced by another set of lawyers. For the past month, my boss and I have effectively been carrying the work of three people. This means back to back meetings, running around like headless chickens and (relatively – for the in-house industry) late finishes. Luckily, we have just taken on a new member of the team so things will hopefully stabilise soon.
The thing with in-house is there is always work to be done. Because you are servicing a business, there are always areas which can be reviewed and new projects to take on. How this translates into time management is that there is always something to do but intelligent prioritising is a must. This means making sure that work is done when it needs to be done and not over-promising. Setting realistic deadlines and managing expectations is key.
Yes – there are the occasional extremely urgent tasks that need to be done, and you have to factor those in too. But generally, there are no private practice style “peaks and troughs”. The approach is there is work to churn so get churning!
Comparing my situation to my private practice counterparts, I’d say they have been “suffering” somewhat from the lack of internal resources (i.e. less colleagues to share the workload with) and private practice grown expectations. Effectively, for an extra £10k-£20k per year my private practice friends have the pleasure of working late (8.00 pm if you’re lucky, 10.00 pm if you manage your time well, and 2.00 am if the partner has left and that contract really needs to go to the client tonight!) and sacrificing their weekend plans. I often like to think that if they calculated their earnings per hour they would find that they are not in fact that far off the minimum wage!
I exaggerate somewhat, but you get the picture. So to illustrate, one of my good friends works as a newly qualified associate at a top 10 firm in the City. I haven’t seen her since Christmas because since the beginning of the year she has been working late during the week and has either been on-call or working at the weekends. She is a litigation lawyer. I didn’t realise there would be many instances in which “urgent” litigation matters could arise…an emergency injunction or claim maybe, but to hold you up for a month? That is particularly hardcore.
Another friend of mine is a trainee in the finance department of a top 15 firm in the City. She had to cancel Sunday lunch a few weeks ago because she had to go into the office for meetings relating to a completion. For the past week she had been getting an average of 2 hours sleep per night. On the Wednesday we had booked to go to the ballet and although she was allowed to sneak out of the office to attend the theatre, as the curtains closed she received a text from the associate she works with asking her to come back to the office as her help was still required.
These are by no means unusual examples. When I was a trainee I was working on an M&A transaction which needed to complete before the end of the year. We had to make sure we were available to come to the office over the Christmas period, even if we had booked holiday – effectively this means that the firm would reimburse us for any travel plans we had made but this doesn’t make up for the fact that you will miss your holiday!
Luckily, as the partner running the deal did not fancy giving up his Christmas plans either, after 2 all-nighters in a row we completed the day before Christmas Eve. It’s amazing what your body can do if it has too. Yes, there were moments at about 3.00 am when I and a number of colleagues were rather delirious with fatigue but you crack through it, (a) because the client is paying and (b) because it’s your job and you have to!
I often ask myself – do I think I could do those sort of hours now. Out of choice, probably not. If the only job I could get was in private practice, I would probably give it a go, but you soon fall out of the private practice approach (especially when you realise that it is largely unrealistic and unsustainable). There are many people who work through the night on a regular basis. Junior doctors, for example, are expected to work 72 hour weeks and they tend to get paid less than a trainee in the City.
I guess it is something to be aware about, especially if you are just entering the profession. Late nights and working weekends are a regular occurrence – more so the more reputable or “American” the firm tends to be. Salaries are high as are expectations. You are expected to put in the hours – that is part of the reason why you are paid so well. So spare the lawyers a thought when you next hear Dolly Parton’s tinny voice singing…working 9 to 5…
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