High street law firm: The work-life balance
Many law students are concerned about maintaining a work/life balance during their training contract. Law is widely acknowledged to be a demanding profession and many reports record that stress levels amongst lawyers run high.
I, like any other person, can speak only from experience and much will depend upon the sort of firm you train with and the practice areas you will encounter.
The reality of law firm stereotypes…
If you have been recruited by a magic circle firm, the stereotype would have you taking up residence in the office (allowed out only on Sundays), spending all your time completing menial jobs for your partner, who is too scared to expose trainees to his number one FTSE 100 client. At least, the pay is good.
What about a Legal Aid firm practicing in crime? Recently I encountered someone I had known on the Legal Practice Course (LPC) who is now a criminal lawyer and whose spare time is compromised by the prospect of being called out to a police station to act as duty solicitor. Another alternative is to train with a smaller, regional firm and accept that you are likely to be paid less than the office cleaner. The pace of work is likely to be slower, but will-drafting and conveyancing is not everyone’s cup of tea. Fortunately, these stereotypes often bear little relation to reality.
I have recently completed my training with what might be described as a high street firm and it is from that perspective that I write. Charles Lucas and Marshall (now part of Coffin Mew Solicitors) is well established in Newbury, Hungerford, Wantage and Swindon and provides services for both business and private clients alike.
The quality of training that you receive is going to vary significantly from one firm to the other, but I consider myself to have been very fortunate. Happily the work/life balance issue has not been a problem and the firm’s working hours are far more civilised that one might expect of a larger city firm. That said, a career as a solicitor is probably not a sensible option if you are looking for a nine-to-five job with no out-of-hours commitments.
The high street difference…
Many high street firms will be looking for trainees with some association with the region in which they practice. This is important for a number of reasons. Firstly, trainees are more likely to stay with the firm if they have connections with the area. Secondly, local knowledge is very important in order to connect with, and relate to, clients. Thirdly, if you are involved in the community in any way, or have links to businesses or associations in the area, there is always the possibility that over time you may be able to generate some work for the firm through contacts.
My own firm is keen to emphasise its ties with the surrounding area and pride themselves on having local knowledge. It’s all about earning goodwill and establishing a reputation. If you find yourself working for a high street firm it is likely that your employer will take a similar approach and this is the context in which you will be required to market the firm and your own practice upon qualification.
Extra-curricular activities involve attending local networking events to meet other professional contacts; attending social functions on behalf of the firm (often with clients); and possibly taking part in projects with voluntary organisations. The extent to which you will be required to devote time to ‘practice development’ initiatives will differ between one firm and the next.
You will be encouraged to forge links with local associations in order to enhance your profile - to become a “man of affairs” as my Training Principal put it (but I don’t think he meant those sorts of affairs). Many of my colleagues sit as school governors, trustees, committee members and so forth.
There is more to this job than sitting at a desk, speaking into a dictaphone and leaving the office at 5pm. Expect to have to devote time to the firm outside working hours, but try to have fun doing so…