How much would you say your answers translate to big firms outside of Toronto (say, Ottawa)?
I'm keeping in mind your disclaimers that you are not a mega authority on any specific issue and that your answers revolve around experience in a big firm in Toronto. But I'm curious if your experience working in a firm, or in dealing with firms, that have offices nationwide, means you can say with any degree of confidence that the circumstances you describe are likely similar in big firms in other big cities.
I work at a big firm (for SK) and my experience has been surprisingly similar to what Uriel has described. I'm junior to him (2014 call), but I've got enough experience under my belt to compare notes. I am also a civil litigation associate, doing primarily commercial litigation.
One of the things he's said that resonated with me is how, as an articling student or junior associate, you have the least control over your schedule. As an articling student I worked 2-3 nights a week and never knew what nights it would be in advance. I often wouldn't know until late afternoon. This is for a variety of reasons, including the time lag caused by the telephone game of instructions, the fact that the lawyers instructing you might not be the most organized, and the simple fact that nobody really cares if they're making you stay late (well, some people do, but that doesn't mean much when something has to get done for the client in 24 hours).
It does get noticeably better with time. I already have much more control over my schedule and what I do day-to-day. Like Uriel, I can usually know on Monday morning if I'm going to have to stay late, and if so, on which days. It's become easier to plan things on weeknights. I work less on weekends now. But I still get surprised sometimes, and I still often end up working late a couple of nights a week.
That is not reassuring, haha. I figured things would get better in time; at a large firm, I am supposed to 'know' what I'm getting myself into. I guess my question is how much of your life do you have to sacrifice in order to do well at your work (as a student and young associate)? I fear I may have to miss out on a lot of my life with my friends, family, relationships, etc. in order to truly excel in the early stages of my career at a large firm. Is this accurate?
What about relationships? Are they even remotely possible as a student or young associate? Would you have to essentially live with your partner in order to ensure you saw them more than once every two weeks?
How did you approach the early stages of your work - as a summer student, articling student, and as a young associate? Did you just never make plans with friends or family out of concern something may come up at work? Did you miss out on a lot? Were you unable to do a lot of the stuff you wanted to do (i.e., go to the gym daily, play a sport, etc.)? I realize my question is quite vague and I'm doing my best to phrase it in a way that's easy to respond to. I'm just concerned about maintaining a balance in my life from the get-go but I fear it's not possible.
It is a significant sacrifice. You will not be able to spend as much time with your loved ones as you (or they) would want, and when you are spending time with them you will often be tired, stressed out, and distracted by your phone. You can set time aside for things, and tell people at work that you are unavailable, but if you get a reputation for being unresponsive or unavailable you will stop getting work and you will eventually be asked to leave (or just not get hired back if articling). I can't say where the bar is, and I'm sure it varies from firm to firm.
I just put my head down and did the work that was given to me.
This year is the first year since I started articling in 2013 that I thought I could maybe sign up for a weekly thing in the evening, like a team sport or golf lessons. I don't think I worked out at all as an articling student, and that was extremely important to me for years before articling. I didn't start again until last spring.
Articling was difficult for my wife and I. I'm lucky she is as supportive and understanding as she is. I used to do almost all of the cooking and most of the dishes, as well as all the home maintenance and repair stuff. While I was articling she had to do the vast majority of the work around the house and I would try to play catch-up on the weekends (she has a 9-5 type job and never has to do evenings or weekends). It's not as bad now, but she still has to do more around the house seeing as I just don't have time most weeks. Quality time was another issue. I think it would be difficult to maintain a non-live-in dating relationship while articling. It's hard enough even when you sleep in the same bed.
It's tough for friends and family to understand too, especially if you don't have anyone with a similarly demanding job in the family or circle of friends. People will tell you that you work too much, that you should put your foot down and refuse to take the office home with you, refuse to answer calls after X time, etc. But the fact is that if a client has entrusted you with a time-sensitive matter, you are the one facing a Law Society disciplinary committee if you don't get it done on time. It's not the client's fault if you've got 40 other files demanding your attention. Unless and until we have entity regulation, it's not even the firm's fault for assigning you more work than you can do (speaking more about junior associates here than articling students).
That is a big question. You could write a book on it.
I'm probably not the right person to answer. I did a terrible job of balancing it all out. I worked a lot more than I probably had to. I still don't see my friends as much as I'd like, but I'm at the stage now where I don't feel like I'm being a bad father that's gone too often, and I feel good about having achieved that small measure of balance. I see Urielette every morning for two or three hours and we hang out two nights a week and all weekend long. It's pretty good.
Of course, to get that kind of time with her I have to really do a dance to fit in friends and the gym. Every minute is taken up with something. There's not a lot of Netflix going on over here.
Everyone's got stories about the toll the hours can take on relationships. And yet, virtually everyone winds up in a relationship and with kids somehow.
You'll get a lot of different advice. Some people will say, just bite the bullet. You're going to put your head down for one summer, and then for 10 months. That's nothing in exchange for the kind of career you can strive for if you do that successfully. That was basically my school of thought, and it worked and I'm pretty okay with it.
Others are going to say you have to defend your personal time jealously. That might work, but I've also seen it not work. When everyone else in the office has been working around the clock and giving up important things in order to respond to a crucial client emergency, it's not going to go over well when you dump the rest of your work on someone else because you have a family brunch every Sunday.
So much of this depends on your firm, and who you work for. If you're working for organized, reasonable people that care about your sanity for the most part, you might have an easier time of it. I made a conscious decision to work for the partners that are tough to get along with, who are very demanding and very brilliant and who are absolutely dedicated to their practice. I'm learning more than I ever thought possible from these people, but at this point Mrs. Uriel knows what it means when I tell her I've been "Michael'ed"* at 5:00 when court lets out, with orders to have a fresh affidavit to respond in court the next morning.
Anyway. I should probably stop prattling about that. I have friends on Bay Street that bill 1900 hours and roll their eyes at how much I work, so I really am probably the very worst person to give that particular kind of advice. I'll probably only scare you. I'm the only person in the office right now, that probably tells you all you need to know.
* Names changed to protect my bosses
I bolded a couple of things that I whole-heartedly agree with (and the "Michael'ed" thing, which I also often find myself saying to my wife...).
I'm also probably not the right person to ask about this kind of stuff either, but I'm answering it nonetheless! I usually bill considerably above my firm's target (and considerably more than the friends Uriel mentions, but I'm sure still a couple hundred hours less tham him!) and there are other associates around my level that work a lot less than I do. As in hundreds of hours a year less. I think it stems from the fact that I pretty much never turn down work, which is in part due to the fact that I don't want to get squeezed out of the areas I'm interested in because I turned something down once. I'm not sure if I'm more ambitious than them, more insecure, or if I'm just slowly becoming a bona-fide workaholic. Hmm.
I have found that several people regret having left the firm, apparently having come to discover that when they said "I don't like working here" what they actually were feeling was "I don't like working".
If you've never had a real job before, you should give any legal job extra latitude to be crappy. All jobs are.
So true. Everyone complains about their jobs. Working sucks in general. The actual work of law is better than most jobs I've had, and the pay is much better. The trade-off is the general expectation of availability and the unpredictable demands on your time.