Work life balance misconceptions

Ryan Kerr, Associate Director18 October 2017

I've written this article following several interesting conversations recently with lawyers who are considering options in the market, and having to break down what I consider misconceptions in relation to work life balance.  This is increasingly viewed as the most important motivator for many of the lawyers I speak to.

Everyone has a slightly different value system, and priorities, and it's important to discuss these at length with your recruitment consultant so they can ask the questions you might not feel comfortable to ask at interview.

In my experience, people tend to fall into three categories, each equally valid.

The first are lawyers who want to focus on deal flow and are prepared to do whatever it takes to make their CV as strong as possible, and to often earn as much as possible.
All-nighters, weekends, cancelled holidays, it’s not as common as some would think, but it does happen, and it’s a part of being a lawyer in some teams and at some firms.  

The second are lawyers who are prepared to work hard, but don't want the relentless hours that can come with being a corporate lawyer at some US firms or Magic / silver circle firms, they want to enjoy both the busy periods and quieter periods.

The third are lawyers who have prioritised their time or families outside of work, and want a greater degree of flexibility for whatever reason.  

Usually there are salary trade-offs as you move from one to three, however it isn't always the case and I will highlight a couple of the bigger misconceptions that I feel still exist in the market today.

Billable hours targets
Not irrelevant at all, but not the best barometer of the day to day working hours in a team.  If the firm’s target is 1600 hours, but they are understaffed, find it hard to recruit, and everyone else in the team is doing 2000, then guess what? - you'll feel like you must as well.

US firms
Yes, if you are at a NY headquartered law firm, especially in some transactional disciplines, it's likely the hours are going to be pretty tough, as tough as anywhere else.  However, some of the Mid-Atlantic firms, and perhaps in the teams at NY law firms, where the partners have moved across from other firms, they will have a more relaxed approach to their work.
I spoke to a lawyer in the silver circle recently who was cautious about moving to a US firm, having been repeatedly told they would be 'beasted', this person was currently working until midnight most nights for around half the salary they would get at a top tier US firm.  My simple response was, 'could it actually get any worse?!'.  Why would the silver and magic circle want to propagate such a rumour, hmm?!

What can you do?
Firstly, take the time to clarify what's important to you, and fully commit to your motivators before entering the recruitment process.  That makes life much simpler.
Secondly, talk to a recruiter, someone who can ask the right questions or knows someone in the team.
Finally, always meet the associates, ideally for lunch or drinks outside of the office.  Not as a rubber-stamping stage but as part of the interview process and ask the right questions honestly and openly. 

As experienced legal recruiters, we at Interlink Recruitment can help.  Ryan takes a personal approach and will always meet anyone he works with, to try to get to the root of these very important issues.  
To talk through your options, email Ryan Kerr, Associate Director at Interlink Recruitment, or call him directly on 0203 655 2180.


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