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5 bad things about being a City lawyer that nobody tells you about

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Anonymous London solicitor Corporate Drone goes where the graduate recruitment brochures definitely do not

Corporate

1. You will constantly be at someone’s beck and call

Be it one of your (many) bosses or a client, you’re going to be someone else’s paper bitch. Your free time is expendable. Got a date this evening? Think again. Off on a city break this weekend? Not anymore!

There will be times when you watch your evenings and weekends slowly slip through your fingertips over the course of a week. Other times they will be blasted into oblivion by a one line email. To add salt to your wounds, often your sacrifice will be for no real reason and/or not appreciated.

Long hours are expected by default: you’ll need a good excuse to leave anywhere near your contractual finish time.

Rest assured you’ll be informed that you must work late and cancel plans in a very subtle and polite way. A common conversation at 7pm on a Friday evening can be along the lines of:

You: “…okay thanks, so does this need to be done urgently?”

Boss: “No, no don’t worry it’s not urgent. 9am Monday will be fine. Have a great weekend!”

You: *DEEP SIGH*

Law firms are notorious for “unpredictable working hours” but this isn’t strictly accurate. You can predict that you’ll be working 9am-8pm on a daily basis … but you can’t always predict when your client is going to obliterate your weekend plans on a whim.

2. Everything is urgent. All of the time

Computers, the internet, word processing and (f**king) blackberries have produced a situation where lawyers are under an expectation to deliver almost immediate responses to the most complex of issues.

It’s a perpetual and vicious cycle.

You need to deliver fast in order to keep your clients happy (and make your firm money), but the more you give, the more they expect next time. Clients are rapid response junkies and lawyers are on call, standing by ready to administer their next fix.

As a result, law firms are constantly on DEFCON 1 — for those of you unfamiliar with US military defence jargon: a maximum state of readiness, nuclear war imminent.

Logically, if everything is urgent, then nothing is. However the harsh truth is that if the client isn’t harassing you for a response, the client partner (AKA your boss) almost certainly will be.

In addition to false urgency, technology has also increased the volume of work required. Contracts that would have traditionally been 20 pages are now 200 pages. Negotiations involve draft after draft after draft, often involving an over-zealous lawyer copy and pasting long and pointless generic terms that they don’t fully understand. It’s really too easy to hit “control C, control V”.

3. You’re not going to be rich

Don’t be stupid, everyone knows lawyers are rich, right? Well … technically yes, on paper and compared to the national average salary, lawyers are well paid. A City trainee solicitor starts on a salary of £36-40k per year and jumps to £60-70k once they are fully qualified (which takes two years).

These sound like good figures, but bear in mind the following:

• You are going to work 40-70% more than your contracted hours and, aside from social exclusion amongst your non-lawyer friends, you do not get overtime. Not one penny. You might get a free pizza and a taxi ride home after a 14 hour day if you’re lucky.

• If you calculate your hourly rate you’ll be pretty disappointed! If money is your goal then other jobs can pay just as well or better, particularly if you’re willing to work as hard as you will be in a law firm. You may very well enjoy them more too.

Two things will erode your income in particular:

• London existing expenses. In other words, rent and travel (you cannot buy a house — at least not with your own money). Admittedly this is the case for everyone in London — about £1,200 is going to disapparate from your account balance every month.

• Reckless and frivolous spending habits. In order to compensate for the emotional and spiritual injuries you will sustain during your working hours, you are likely to develop a wasteful/expensive lifestyle as a form of escape or release. This can come in the form of alcohol, expensive vacations, shopping sprees, more alcohol, recreational drugs and just general nonchalance vis-à-vis money.

4. Your health is likely to suffer

Lots of sitting, screen staring, not much time for exercise, irregular (and unhealthy) eating and alcohol, lots of it. Welcome to the good life …

Most of your time will be spent at your desk, proverbially “plugged in” to the matrix. You are a stationary worker bee.

Working late means takeaways. If you work for a more “caring” firm someone is actually employed to specifically to take care of your late night food orders. Seriously.

It’s not that you can’t hit the gym at all, but you will need to make a real effort to escape for an hour. A good technique is to sneak out early in the day when you have greater control over the remainder of your day. If you miss that valuable window of opportunity it’s difficult to find another.

Lastly, lawyers drink. As previously mentioned this is often to forget — or at least temporarily numb — their worries and stresses. It all seems like a great idea at the time … all until the next morning when the emails are flowing in, the hangover can’t be tamed and you’re forced to lie down/take refuge in the nearest disabled bathroom.

5. Be prepared to execute orders

You will be told specifically what to do, most of the time. There’s little room for independent thought until you reach the upper echelons of your firm.

You’re a weapon, not a soldier, ready to be picked up and fired down the range. A resource waiting to be exploited.

A lawyer’s training contract can be a very frustrating time, particularly if your supervisor doesn’t really care about your development.

During a time when you are meant to be learning the ropes, you can easily become lumbered with soul destroying admin work. Your supervisor must balance your development versus business needs but this is tough for firms to achieve.

Not everyone makes a great teacher but the senior lawyers must supervise a junior as part of their own development. The result is another vicious cycle … junior lawyers take sh*t for years and then don’t feel bad about dishing it out when the boot is on the other foot.

It’s common to hear the phrase:

“Think yourself lucky…when I was a trainee I had to [INSERT demeaning task].”

You have to be mentally tough to endure these orders and there will be times where you’ll want to scream, cry or just walk out the door and join the rebellion. The key is to always think of yourself and keep your best interests in mind — your superiors sure as hell won’t.

A version of this article was published earlier this week at Corporate–drone.blogspot.co.uk. You can follow Corporate Drone on Facebook and on Twitter.