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myh8

Mid-life crisis during Articling?

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It's pretty ironic that this is being discussed on a Saturday night. 

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16 minutes ago, Eeee said:

Get a load of little Eichmann

True. The Nazis were, as we all know, big into the whole “find your own personal truth and pursue a life that accords with that without worrying about whether other people have different preferences”. 

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36 minutes ago, myh8 said:

uh huh. Well everyone OUTSIDE of law is SHOCKED to hear what hours are considered normal in law. Because it is crazy to expect people to work 70-80 hours a week. Period.

It is the firm's profit model. Great. Maybe all private sector businesses should be able to drop legislated labour protections to increase their profit margins. Would work well for those corporations and their shareholders. And I'm sure there's lots of desperate people who would be willing to work all the time.

Maybe companies could start providing beds and showers so people can just stay at work all the time. More profit!

Legislated labour protections for workers are in place to stop rich people from exploiting everyone else.

The legal profession has no legislated standard work week. I think it should have legislated protections. It doesn't. Doesn't mean it's right or healthy or ok.

The fact that so many people in law think this is ok, because it's "just the way it is" is crazy.

Talented people shouldn't have to leave the law because they can't work an 80 hour week. It is ableist to think that time worked and ability to work all the time means you are a better lawyer. Perhaps you are just a better slave.

I don't want to be a slave, thanks.

Sorry, but that is far from being a slave. Slaves don’t have choice. You do. Slaves do not get paid at all. You do, and better than most other people out there. 

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It’s amazing how quickly people can become unsympathetic. When my girlfriend went to brush her teeth, I felt bad for OP. By the time she got back, I was utterly indifferent to his troubles. 

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For those reading this who haven't begun articling/lawyering -- or who are currently anxious students/lawyers wondering if your competition down the hall is literally the guy from Limitless -- don't fret: "hours worked" is a meaningless phrase that, strangely in the legal profession, seems to be defined by the amount of time beginning from when one sets foot in the lobby and ending when they hit the pavement (for the last time in a day). This clock apparently doesn't stop running during life admin, gym/lunch/coffee/other breaks, etc. I've basically come to learn that "hours worked per week" is equivalent to "the most hours I've ever spent in the office in one week".

Edited by PredictablyDarwin
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Hey OP,

I am not a lawyer yet, so maybe I'm too soft-hearted in comparison, but I do feel bad how people have piled on you like this. Suicidal thoughts are no joke. I hope you're able to get the help you need to get through this difficult period in your life. Please talk to someone in real life about this, whether it be a loved one, mental health professional, or someone at work (if you feel comfortable doing so). 

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Well everyone OUTSIDE of law is SHOCKED to hear what hours are considered normal in law.

Not everyone. There are many professions where people work similar hours. I know, e.g., bankers, doctors, a couple of mining engineers, people who run their own businesses, almost anyone who is any senior managerial position. 80 hour weeks are not considered 'normal in law'. Not by anyone I know.

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It is the firm's profit model.

Not always. The reality is that law is a service industry. When you have clients who want work done, you do it. The problem is that it is often unpredictable and sometimes results in having to work long hours to complete that work in a timely fashion.  

If you're not at a large/large-ish firm, then having to work 60-80 hours a week on a regular basis is not very common. There may be weeks where that is necessary but it won't be every week. I'm curious to know when you started your articles. You don't have to answer that here, and I'm happy to respond via PM. If you have just started, it isn't at all unusual to feel overwhelmed and confused and uncertain about the work you're doing. I'm sorry you're feeling such anxiety about work. It's time to speak to your principal. People can't help you unless they know how you're feeling, and you say you're hiding how you actually feel about this job.

Although there may not be many legal positions who will always have a 9-5 schedule, there are certainly areas of the law where you will have something closer to that than you currently have. 

 

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One small comment that may or may not be helpful: early on, everything you do takes three times as long as it should. It’s part of the learning curve.

So the tasks lawyers are handing out on Fridays and due on Monday might be something the lawyers think could be finished up within an hour. But the reality is a student is going to have trouble doing it in less than half a day. Welcome to your Saturday spent at the office. 

My point is it does get better in that sense. The work might not get easier but you do go faster. If that helps. 

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@myh8 Whether I or another Internet stranger agree with your reasoning or not, misery and unhappiness is subjective not objective. You're still angry and upset, and you still need to get help in figuring out what and how to do in the situation you're in now. Stop spending time here and go do that (or since it's Sunday, research who/what you're going to do, call, make an appointment with, or try to enjoy your day off if it's today, whatever). But my, or anyone else's sympathy for your feelings doesn't necessarily mean we will validate your opinions. See e.g.  @Diplock above who's also sympathetic and helpful, albeit more from the tough love direction.

Having said that, I agree there are problems with the profession's structure (and why so many leave, even if professionally successful, in part because the option to take less money for better hours rarely exists in the employed private practice lawyer context). I just think that problems with working conditions and employer-employee relative power are a much broader topic, not just professionals and trainees but those who have to work multiple jobs just to live and/or support their family.

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OP, 

This thread has taken some twists and turns but rather than telling you what is or is not expected at most large firms regarding "hours", I thought I might offer some practical advice: if the objective is simply to "get through" articles, then you don't need to work the 60 hours/week that your colleagues are working. You can do less. You will probably perform more poorly on evaluations when compared to your peers, you will probably be less liked by the lawyers at your firm, and you probably will not be hired back - but you can do less and still complete your articles. 

When a task comes in and lawyers or your fellow articling students are asking you whether you have capacity just say "no". Everyone's own idea of their "capacity" is different - for me the yard stick (so to speak) was "if I work 16 hour days for the next three days can I get this done?" and if my answer was absolutely "yes" then I would take on the task.  Some of my colleagues had different measures to answer the "capacity" question - for some, if it meant they would have to stay after 5pm they'd say no. For others, if they had to stay up all night to get it done they'd still say yes.

The thing about being a lawyer (and to some extent being an articling student), is that you are the master of your schedule. I left work early Thursday to be home for dinner with my family, but that meant I had to get up an hour early on Friday to finish a task due by 10am. Sometimes I'll leave work at lunch to go to a Jays game with my wife but I was in the office until 10pm the night before to make that work. This is the practical way that we have found for me to have a "balance" and it can look different for everyone.

Just remember, that although you are not happy right now, you do have some control over the situation and recognizing that control could help to ease some of your anxiety. You can set your own capacity parameters and as long as you're getting some work done for some lawyers it is very unlikely that they will fire you (generally, you have to be grossly incompetent to be fired from articles). So, set your capacity parameters lower, say no to the 60 hour week and start looking for positions in other firms/areas where a law degree is valuable that will fit your expectation for work-life balance. 

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4 hours ago, Xer said:

Suicidal thoughts are no joke. 

OP said that they are not actually suicidal which probably opened the door for the tough love and reality check

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28 minutes ago, TheScientist101 said:

...

This thread has taken some twists and turns but rather than telling you what is or is not expected at most large firms regarding "hours", I thought I might offer some practical advice: if the objective is simply to "get through" articles, then you don't need to work the 60 hours/week that your colleagues are working. You can do less. You will probably perform more poorly on evaluations when compared to your peers, you will probably be less liked by the lawyers at your firm, and you probably will not be hired back - but you can do less and still complete your articles. 

When a task comes in and lawyers or your fellow articling students are asking you whether you have capacity just say "no". Everyone's own idea of their "capacity" is different - for me the yard stick (so to speak) was "if I work 16 hour days for the next three days can I get this done?" and if my answer was absolutely "yes" then I would take on the task.  Some of my colleagues had different measures to answer the "capacity" question - for some, if it meant they would have to stay after 5pm they'd say no. For others, if they had to stay up all night to get it done they'd still say yes.

...

[portion only quoted]

Replying more generally, not to OP specifically. From a search of "getting to no", a brief article re managers but analogous some ways (not entirely, because articling students tend to have less autonomy, but in a general sense of attitude towards saying no):

"...“Getting to no” is a classic management issue because the vast majority of us tend to accept requests and assignments without first filtering them by what’s possible, what’s urgent, and what’s less of a priority. In an age when we are encouraged to be “team players” and responsive to colleagues, it may seem counter-intuitive or even selfish to encourage managers to say no more often, but that is exactly what many need to do. While saying yes to every assignment may initially please senior execs, it usually leaves people over-stressed and inundated with work — a lot of which ends up half-finished or forgotten. In the long run, no one is happy...." [emphasis added]

https://www.forbes.com/sites/ronashkenas/2016/03/25/how-to-succeed-by-getting-to-no/#1a84c4e56dd2

The easiest time I had saying no while articling was when I told a lawyer I couldn't work late on an assignment for them because I had a small claims court trial the next day (assigned through another lawyer). It was easy because as I saw it, my primary duty was to the client, and part of that was being prepared and well-rested when I was examining and cross-examining witnesses and making legal arguments, not operating on only a few hours' sleep. No-one else could step in for me for the trial, but someone else (if necessary the lawyer themselves) could do the other work.

Not that I said all these things, I just said no, because trial the next day I didn't have time to do the other work that evening (that is, I gave a reason for saying no).

When it's a matter of cumulative work overload it's harder, because there are multiple responsibilities not a discrete reason to say no - clients, employer, lawyers, oneself, family, etc. I knew people who I thought did wrong priorities re themselves or family (e.g. being several hours late getting to their spouse in the hospital in serious condition because they were finishing an assignment and while serious the spouse wasn't expected to die - the lawyer, when they found out, were horrified and upset, because they or literally any other student could easily have done the work instead, if only the student had spoken up, they weren't indispensable - none of the other students knew until afterwards either). Or (different situation, lawyer not articling) someone who was thinking about, instead of taking an important religious holiday off and spending it with their family (who were religiously observant), they were thinking of instead saying they needed to leave early that day for religious holiday reasons and they'd meet their family, but late, after most of the religious observance was over (they had to travel to get there). Which made no sense to me, if employer is so terrible don't even leave early, if not, take the whole day off and don't piss off your family (and God? :rolleyes:).

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I'm late to the party on this one, but OP, this seems like it really comes down to pretty wildly inaccurate expectations about what articling students do. I'm specifically looking at the following:

15 hours ago, myh8 said:

Yes, I am definitely burning out. That's exactly it. This schedule is just overwhelming, and I feel like I have to be thinking at "exam level" or "paper writing level" the entire time I am working. It is brutal. I never spent 60 hours working on anything in law school. And it felt difficult. Now I feel like it was a joke! In law school they gave you an outline, with all the expectations, and you gradually learned the subject. At work they just shove files at you and you're expected to just know how to write a factum in an area you aren't familiar with, etc, in a very short time. At school I wrote only 2 or 3 factums in the entire 3 years! and they took me forever! Now I'm told I should be able to come up with a complex factum in a day. It's insanity! Maybe I will get better at it, but right now it feels like being in an alternate reality of torture. I thought I'd be going to court, taking notes, meeting clients, etc sometimes, but all I am doing is writing, research, and more writing. I don't even think I'll learn how to be a lawyer this way! I just feel like the lawyers' slave.

[...]

You seem to have expected that articling would have just involved basic court attendances, taking notes, and sitting in on client meetings. You're surprised that the bulk of your work is research and writing (presumably, memos and facta). You think that it's "insanity" that you're being asked to learn about a new area of law and draft a factum on short notice.

These are extremely common articling student tasks and experiences. Most articling students will tell you that articling is basically like jumping into the deep end immediately and trying to learn how to swim - that was certainly my experience - and that's how you learn. Research is likely the most common task for an articling student. I'm pretty sure that the smallest amount of investigation into what articling is like would have given you this information.

If you really are consistently working 70-80 hour weeks with no reprieve, I do agree that's quite a lot, especially for a mid-sized firm outside Toronto. I also agree that it might be unfair if the firm represented the job to you as one requiring closer to 40-hour weeks, and in reality it's almost double that. If this is causing mental health concerns, you absolutely should talk to a professional about that. But frankly, I have a hard time sympathizing with someone who has such inaccurate expectations which very easily could, and should, have been addressed during school. And I don't think you should be attacking those who had their expectations in order and are making the informed decision to have that lifestyle.

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Another thought... usually lawyer work is more task oriented than time oriented. Are you working 60 because everyone else is, or because your tasks take that long to complete?  Because some people actually like being in the office and drag out their time there with long lunches, gossip, being keeners doing extra projects, researching things they’re curious about, etc. If you put your head down and just focus on the essential tasks, how long does that take? 

Prioritizing is a skill that articling students need to learn. It is quite possible that, as @Hegdis said, your principal thinks that there are 40 hours of work and it’s just taking you 60. My 60 is probably a student’s 80 or 90. So when your principal or another lawyer assigns you something, are you asking how important it is, when it’s due, if something else should be set aside to do it, etc, or are you just accepting work without comment? They may not realize all of what you have to do and might tell you that some things can wait. And of course if there are family emergencies or super important events, let them know that. 

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And articling life is not necessarily like practicing life. The fun stuff you mention not getting to do as much - court time, interviewing clients etc - will happen more. (You should still get to do some of that, so you should mention that you would like to to your principal.) But the further into practice you get and the more of your own files you have, the more you can control your own schedule. 

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16 minutes ago, providence said:

Another thought... usually lawyer work is more task oriented than time oriented. Are you working 60 because everyone else is, or because your tasks take that long to complete?  Because some people actually like being in the office and drag out their time there with long lunches, gossip, being keeners doing extra projects, researching things they’re curious about, etc. If you put your head down and just focus on the essential tasks, how long does that take? 

Prioritizing is a skill that articling students need to learn. It is quite possible that, as @Hegdis said, your principal thinks that there are 40 hours of work and it’s just taking you 60. My 60 is probably a student’s 80 or 90. So when your principal or another lawyer assigns you something, are you asking how important it is, when it’s due, if something else should be set aside to do it, etc, or are you just accepting work without comment? They may not realize all of what you have to do and might tell you that some things can wait. And of course if there are family emergencies or super important events, let them know that. 

On a related note, students should try to figure out what/how much the lawyer actually wants done. I can recall some lawyers discussing e.g. that one of them had given a student an assignment to find the leading case, all they wanted was the name/link to the leading case (or maybe if there was an older SCC and recent OCA case two cases). But instead of a two-line email, they got a 5-page memo discussing multiple cases with parallel citations for each and reference to secondary sources and why X was the leading case and the student's summaries. Which they didn't care about, it was a waste of time for the student to do it, they weren't going to read it beyond the name of the leading case.

Now, if the lawyer wants a full summary okay, and the lawyer's time is more important than the student's so don't half-ass things, but if the lawyer wants a quick, simple, basic thing, the student shouldn't reinvent the wheel. It's not like an exam, where if there's a trivially easy and straightforward answer you don't get to display your knowledge and get a poor mark so you have to write more about all sorts of alternatives. If there's a trivially easy and straightforward answer in practice, great.

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Do the people who keep saying you work less hours in small firms actually work in small firms? Because that is not necessarily true at all, in my experience. You may have more choice as to when and how to work the hours and you can take time off as you please as long as the work is done, but it's really not many hours, or any at all, less than in a larger firm. 

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1 hour ago, providence said:

Do the people who keep saying you work less hours in small firms actually work in small firms? Because that is not necessarily true at all, in my experience. You may have more choice as to when and how to work the hours and you can take time off as you please as long as the work is done, but it's really not many hours, or any at all, less than in a larger firm. 

I wonder this as well. I know people who work at small firms/are sole practitioners and they haul ass because if they don't work the bills don't get paid. And BOUTIQUES! My friends at boutiques worked MUCH harder and MUCH longer hours and MANY more weekends than I did when I summered at a full service. 

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