Are you thinking of moving firm for a better work/life balance? If so, what factors should you consider before taking the plunge?
It’s not often we get the chance to quote Dolly Parton in a blog, so we couldn’t miss the opportunity when it arose. “Don’t get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life,” advised the American country singer and actress. It’s a sentiment many lawyers are taking to heart as they strive for that seemingly elusive work/life balance.
Much of this is driven by the fact that the 9 to 5 working day Dolly famously sang about is a distant memory, certainly for junior lawyers. They spend an average of 10 hours and 15 minutes in the office every day, according to a recent survey by Legal Cheek. Junior lawyers at Jones Day have the longest average day at 12 hours and 9 minutes, with those at Kirkland & Ellis only three minutes behind. The lawyers with the shortest day (of firms surveyed) are at BLM, who work (a mere) eight hours and 58 minutes a day.
But are the average numbers of hours a day a reason to consider changing firm? That depends on the individual. If you are arriving at the office before 9am and not leaving until after 9pm each working day, that might get demoralising as it leaves little time to spend with friends and family or to pursue outside interests.
The reality is more likely to be that there are periods when you are working intense hours on a particular case or transaction, and this is followed by a quieter period with shorter days. Perhaps, when you think about, you enjoy this variety and the adrenaline rush of a frantic period as much as (or perhaps more) than the less hectic periods.
A better indication of the number of hours you’ll be putting in and the stress you will be under is the billable hours target. K & L Gates expects its lawyers to put in 2,088 billable hours a year, which is at least 288 hours more than their counterparts at magic circle firms Clifford Chance and Allen & Overy, for example.
Bear in mind too that the firms with the greatest demands in terms of hours tend to be amongst those who pay the most. Kirkland & Ellis NQs may rack up 12-hour days, but they are also on c. £150,000 a year compared to the £44,000 BLM pays its London-based NQs and the £30,000 it pays in the regions.
The bottom line is that often (though not always) pressure and long hours means a higher salary. The question is, how low you are prepared to go for less anxiety and fewer hours?
Perks and other factors
Another factor to consider are the perks you would miss out on, such as healthcare, gym membership and subsidised staff restaurants. Plus, there are some things you can’t put a price on. What’s the morale like at the firm? Is there a shared sense of purpose and do you have good friends there? What is the quality of work like and what sort of experience are you getting?
Are you growing as a lawyer and what opportunities are there for learning and development or working in different offices, perhaps overseas? Is it worth sticking it out until you have the necessary experience you need before moving onto the next stage of your career?
Remember too that moving to a smaller, seemingly less demanding firm doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you will be under less pressure or enjoy it more. You may end up working for a particularly difficult boss, and although you will be at your desk for fewer hours, the time you spend there may not be as rewarding. You might merely be changing job and walking into a different type of stress for less money.
Can you move departments or roles?
When you think about it carefully you may realise that you like the firm’s culture and people, you don’t mind the hours too much, but it’s simply the work that’s getting you down. Or perhaps it’s the client-facing side of the role. Consider whether there may be other opportunities in the firm, such as moving to a different department or becoming a professional support lawyer with little client interaction.
Whatever you decide, don’t jump ship on a whim, wait until you have given it careful thought from every angle. Or, as Dolly put it: “Find out who you are and do it on purpose.”