How to survive as a lawyer – a 12 step plan

As you may know (or not), part of the fun of a training contract in the UK is the changing of the seats (similar to changing of the guard in no way whatsoever).  Every six months, we change offices, practice groups and supervisors, allowing us to experience 3, 4 or more types of law practiced in the firm. This is particularly important because we need to know just what we are getting ourselves into when qualification comes around.

During the seat change, there is a lot of political puppeteering behind the scenes (cue large egos and meddling HR personnel) which results in trainees losing their minds (and potentially six months of their lives).

The time has come once again to switch it up and starting on September 2nd, I will be joining another group (hello hedge funds!) for my final six months as a trainee. This time around, I (finally!) got my first choice of seats – thanks to a smidge of political maneuvering and some influence from above. Hallelujah. Others were not so lucky and my heart goes out to them, because as we (I) know… getting stuck with your last choice (please, anything but….) is far from ideal and can result in a very, very, very long six months.

As I prepare to say good riddance good-bye to my six months in transactional finance, I would like to highlight (lowlight?) some of the lessons I have learned over the course of the last 1286 (and counting) hours.

1. Don’t make plans… ever

This may come as a shock to those of you who live in the fantasy world of a 9-5 job but the number of times I left the office before 6pm in six months can be counted on one hand. Average leaving time: 9pm. Latest leaving time in the six months: 4:45am. Evening yoga classes? Never made it to one. Dinner plans? Rookie mistake. Texting a special someone to say “I’ll be home soon”? That means 2am. Any evening plans made during the last six months came with the caveat that I might not actually be able to show up (and most of the time, I didn’t).

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2. Don’t think that vacation is a contractual right

There has been some bitchin’ round these parts of late in relation to vacation… the end may be in sight (lucky you) with my imminent seat change to a more vacation-friendly group. But we aren’t there yet, are we? Vacation in finance is a unicorn. Something that doesn’t exist (despite the contractual allowance of 25 days per year). That being said, I will know later this week if next week’s epic staycation is being cancelled by the powers that be. If it is, I will have been granted the ever-so-gracious amount of five days of holiday since coming back from Christmas in the States (looks like someone may be rolling over some holiday to next year and adding a week to her qualification leaven in Thailand next year to make up for it).

To be fair, it isn’t just the trainees that get stuck with the short end of the vacation stick. Various partners and other senior lawyers have been cancelling or delaying their vacations left and right all summer long. And those who have swanned off on their long summer holidays have had the immense pleasure of being stuck on conference calls and turning around documents overnight just like the rest of us (they are just remotely doing so from a warm, sunny locale).

3. Always be available

While some firms in London (i.e. Magic Circle) have a recommended (i.e. required) response time for trainees to respond to emails, my firm does not officially have such policy (that I know of…). So when receiving emails in the middle of the night to urgently do things, you have to do them. This also means that weekends and holidays are regular business days – it just means you can wear jeans into the office or, ideally, log in from home in yoga pants, while watching netflix and eating oreos.

Luckily most things can be done from home (thank you, technology). Unfortunately, this means that you are on-call… every day and night until the end of time (technology, you suck.)

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4. Urgent doesn’t mean anything

Urgent is thrown around so damn much that it no longer means anything. I often ask “when do you need this done by” and 95% of the time the response I get is “ASAP”. Sometimes that means stay all night to do it, sometimes it means next week is fine. But no one will actually say that, even if you ask them to clarify. Everything is urgent. I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone over the age of 35 is on some sort of blood pressure medication (there is probably some firm discount for that sort of thing once you hit your thirties).

5. A properly stocked snack drawer is a must

My snack drawer is the most important drawer in my desk. It has saved me from all sorts of late-night emergencies that would have otherwise resulted in ordering the biggest cheese pizza (with extra cheese, please!) available from our food delivery service. In addition to my Graze deliveries (which keep me stocked on all kinds of nuts, seeds, dried fruits and the occasional brownie), I also stock my drawer with seedy crackers (not sketchy, multi-grain), microwave popcorn, cookies, dark chocolate with sea salt and my most favorite Mariage Freres tea (Marco Polo The Vert). I also stock bottles of Pellegrino under my desk/in the fridge, along with the occasional Dr. Pepper zero. Sanity restored!

6. Thank you is implicit

When you do something amazing and wonderful and (oh my word) right, your well-deserved thank you from the partners and other lawyers is implicit. Do not expect a gold star, pat on the back or any sort of thank you. Your reward: you still have a job.

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7. Multitasking will save your sanity

Sitting in finance has definitely honed my multitasking skills, which were already pretty superb if I do say so myself. Sitting in on six hours of conference calls with the client means: billing six hours to the client (cha-ching), taking a detailed note of the call to be distributed to the rest of the working group, doing my weekly grocery shop on my phone, paying all of my bills, paying my rent, bridesmaid dress shopping online, pinning potential hairstyles to my pinterest, making a doctor’s appointment, having the latest draft documents printed and bound for the working group AND giving all the other lawyers in the room the impression that I am fully concentrated on the call – game, set, match betches… I got this.

oh wait....
oh wait….

8. Fake it ’till you make it

When I first landed in finance, I had no idea what people were actually talking about (most of the time, I still don’t). I have learned that, when in doubt, use big fancy finance words and other key phrases: securitisation, priority of payments, payment waterfall, “we’ll have to run that by our colleagues in the [fill in the blank: regulatory/tax/litigation/employment] department”, “we will revert as soon as practicable”, etc, etc.

Always walk around the halls with a large stack of papers – it gives you a sense of purpose and if anything, helps with upper-body strength lost over months of missed fitness classes.

9. Save multiple versions of every document

This is one of the most crucial lessons learned. While supervising attorneys think they know what is best and are such stars at giving clear and concise instructions (the first ten times), make sure you save every single version of your work because chances are, they will change their mind about how something is done and you will have to redo everything… again… from the very beginning… for the sixth time.

10. Outsource and delegate wherever possible 

While this is a mantra of mine generally in every day life, this became even more crucial while sitting in finance. Not only did I outsource and delegate work-related task to the lovely folks in the library, repro and document production wherever possible, but also I used delivery services to make my life just a little bit easier.

I have also arrived at the stage where all of our groceries, fresh produce, cleaning supplies and cat litter/food/toys are delivered to our apartment directly… and I have all of my dry cleaning picked up and dropped off at the office. We are currently in negotiations re cleaning lady… I bet you can guess which side of the negotiations I am on.

11. Prioritizing your health and sanity is key

I know some people who are so good at this but yours truly needs a bit more  work in this department. Take your vitamins, tell people to leave you alone for a couple hours so you can go to yoga/spinning/pilates/frozen yogurt, invest in some serious anti-wrinkle serum, eat your veggies, drink your Pellegrino, etc.

You may not be able to get all the sleep you want every night, but at least you won’t feel as miserable if you are actively trying to take good care of yourself. Over the six months, I managed to get some fitness in (not as much as I would have liked), ate lots of veggies (vegetarian most days of the week), tried and tested various anti-wrinkle creams – still in progress, took my vitamins (most days and yes, they are gummy vitamins of the princess variety) but did not manage to tell people to take a hike… I feel like that will get easier as I work my way up. All of this will also get easier as of September 2nd… so get ready for a renewed, energized and happy little bunny in the very near future!

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12. Don’t ever take anything personally

Generally, I am pretty good at not taking things too personally when it comes to work. This however, is not the case if someone decides to throw me under a bus in a snarky email to the client because I am not available to send comparison documents at 1am without any prior warning (I did get up and send those documents at 1:20am… so there). Then I will take it personally and will sneeze on your keyboard while you are on vacation.

Sayonara, law. I would say it’s been fun but that would be a lie.

3 thoughts on “How to survive as a lawyer – a 12 step plan

  1. Yikes! Sounds stressful… will remember all this next time I am totally broke and complaining about not having a well paid job like a solicitor!! Really really rooting for you that they don’t cancel your staycation at last minute, that would just be so cruel!! x

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