Working at a Law Firm: Expectation v Reality


“A great attorney is one who treats you like a human being instead of a number”

– Spencer E. Farris

The thought of a career in law seems enticing with external factors such as Suits, How to Get Away with Murder, Silk and the Good Wife (to name a few) readily available for the world to view. It’s no surprise that many people have the misconception that working as a paralegal in a law firm means you get a fancy office with big corporate clients, and live the Rachel Zain lifestyle. I’d be lying if I said external factors didn’t have a slight part to play with I decided to pursue a career in law. My genuine interest in the field paired with films such as Legally Blonde, and books like To Kill a Mockingbird out there, it was a no-brainer for me. But working as a Paralegal for the last two months has allowed me to see how working at a law firm is nothing like the expectation.
  1. The hours. Yes, the hours working at a law firm are mostly very long. A day can start before 8:30am every day, and wont’t finish until past 7:00pm on most days, so I think it’s safe to say it can be a tiring profession, (especially when you’re not getting paid for any of the hundreds of extra hours you’re putting in). If you’re willing to work the hours, or even lucky enough to work at a firm that discourages it, then a career in law may just be for you!
  2. Look at the bigger picture. Never judge a firm by what you see on paper (I speak from experience when I say this). It may seem like heaven on earth, but take the time to go to an open day, or even do a work placement and judge the firm for yourself. Have a look at all of the practice areas they are involved in and use your interview as an opportunity to find out as much information as you need to know before deciding if it’s the right place for you.
  3. Lunch breaks, what are they again? It’s important to remember to take some time for yourself in the day, even when you are at work. lawyers have such hectic schedules that most days your lunch break consists of you eating a sandwich whilst working on a client file. Try not to fall in to this trap, or it’ll be a very hard habit to break!
  4. “If you don’t work at a Magic Circle firm it’ll be harder for you to get a training contract”. This is very untrue. Any experience is invaluable, especially on your CV. Sometimes working at a smaller firm means that you get more in-depth training due to the volume of work compared to the amount of staff. Sometimes you have to start off at a smaller firm in order to get the experience and work your way to where you want to be.
  5. Programmes such as Suits and The Good Wife portrays a large amount of competitiveness between fee-earners. Whilst it may be the case that everyone on your level essentially wants to get where you want to be, whether it’s securing a training contract, or becoming an associate or partner, it is very difficult to pick up on that competitive nature if you are not already aware of it. Fee-Earners and support staff are willing to help each other with whatever they can in order to deal with client files and complete a transaction. Being a lawyer consists of a lot of team work!
If you’re applying to a firm, base your decision on what experience you will get out of it, and not just on the firm’s credibility. Does the firm deal with more than one area of law? If so, are they of interest to you? Will you be able to get experience in more than one department/office? These things are all crucial when applying for/accepting job offers. Overall, the portrayal of working at a law firm that’s shown on TV is very far from reality. My answer to anybody who asks “so, is being a lawyer the same as it is in Suits?” will most definitely be no.

 

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