Do I have to choose between my career and having work/life balance?

Dear Oracle

Is it possible to be a solicitor and have a good work/life balance?

The Oracle replies

In a word, yes - the two aren't mutually exclusive! Many solicitors manage to balance a successful career with a full life outside of work. However, this cannot be said for all, so if a good work/life balance is a priority for you, be careful which firms you apply to for training contracts.

Many of the solicitors we speak to describe their careers as a lifestyle choice – meaning that they accept that long hours come with the territory of a high-flying, well-paid and/or professionally fulfilling career that they love. Law is certainly a high-intensity profession and generally speaking, the more a firm is paying you, the more it will expect in terms of your time. It stands to reason that if you're being paid an eye-poppingly high wage to train, you will be expected to put the hours in - all-nighters and non-existent lunch breaks included. If this doesn't appeal to you, you're best avoiding the magic circle and City giants.

But corporate firms aren't the only ones guilty of tipping the scales too far in favour of work; legal aid is an area to watch out for as budget cuts and increasing demand have led to increasing amounts of pressure on the lawyers practising in the field.

It is increasingly accepted that the long-hours of culture in the legal profession is very much biased against women’s careers, not to mention being bad for employees’ mental health. There is a shocking drop-off of women staying in the profession at five years after qualifying and this is directly related to the traditionally inflexible nature of the profession when it comes to commitments outside work, such as looking after children, as well as the fact that the senior levels of law firms are largely dominated by wealthy white men who see the world and govern their employees according to their own very narrow experiences and views.

However, with more women rightly calling for seats at the top table and flexible working arrangements for both women and men as part of a wider movement toward gender equality and away from workplace tyranny, we hope that the days of law firms expecting themselves to come before their employees’ own children are numbered.   

For now, one way to get a hint of how much a firm values the work/life concept is to read its website, particularly any first-hand accounts from trainees (profiles of whom can also be found in the Meet the Lawyer section of LawCareers.Net). Although such profiles must be viewed through a prism of healthy cynicism, you will at least discover whether life outside the job is mentioned - or noticeable by its absence!

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