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There Is Life Outside the Office – Surviving the First Few Years of Practicing Law

The push towards the importance of work-life balance began during orientation week of my first year at law-school. Work-life balance (or study-life balance as it was back then) was emphasized as integral to surviving law school, and pursuing a healthy successful career. I recall one professor recommending that students should treat law school like a “9 to 5 job”. He suggested that students should spend the mornings and afternoons tackling classes and readings, so that they could use their evenings to unwind, socialize and pursue their favourite hobbies. I took my professors advice, recognizing that there were days that I might have to work and study for longer than that, and found that having a set schedule for completing my readings, assignments and classes did actually make it easier to balance work and school, and benefitted my social life outside of the law school.

As I entered the world of articling in the summer of 2008, stories emerged about the long hours students and lawyers worked. It’s safe to say that, generally, law is not considered a “9 to 5 job” and that the adversarial nature of the occupation can have a toll on ones emotional and physical well-being. With strict deadlines and set hearing dates, there are often longer work days, and sometimes one may find themselves tasked with consecutive weeks of working extended hours as a result of a lengthy trial or complex business transaction, for example. Being a young lawyer can also sometimes mean being assigned with lengthy research assignments or voluminous document review for senior counsel, while also balancing the responsibility of your own case load.

I first experienced how important work-life balance was during my very first Supreme Court trial in British Columbia. It was two weeks into my articling year, and I was second chair for what was anticipated to be a 5 day personal injury trial. I was tasked with giving the opening introduction of our client’s case, conducting some of the direct examination, and presenting our client’s closing submissions to the Court, and I knew I had to be well prepared for every possible scenario that could arise at trial. At the time, I lived in Summerland, BC, a 40 minute drive from the Kelowna based firm I work at. This meant that, beginning the week before trial, I was driving into Kelowna at 6 am in the morning, and usually getting back to Summerland late in the night. It was an exhausting (and very rewarding) experience, and when the trial concluded, the lead lawyer and I went for dinner to chat about the entire experience. He thanked me for my assistance, and told me about his experience balancing the busy schedule of a litigator, with familial obligations and his social interests. He encouraged me to take a couple of days to unwind, spend time with those close to me, and focus on catching up with my favourite hobbies.

For me, living in Kelowna provides a variety of seasonal recreational activities to balance my work and my life. With the cooler fall season approaching, I’ve just come back from a morning hike with my wife, and in a couple of months the hikes will be replaced with weekend day trips up to Big White to ski. In the spring we often find ourselves on weekend road-trips to the coast and in the summer, beach volleyball and hot sunny days floating on inflatable chairs in Lake Okanagan provide hours of relaxation.

In the end, all of the advice I received fell into the same growing theme: it does not matter what it is that provides you with the necessary balance between your work and your social life, what is most important is that you take the time to for activities outside of the work place, and activities that you really enjoy, whether it be catching up with the newest best-selling novel, joining a sports league, dance class, wine-tasting club, spending time playing board games or watching a movie with your family.

Jasroop Grewal

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Comments

  1. Susan Cartier Liebel

    It’s been my experience that as we increasingly stay connected and work remotely that there is no longer a distinction between work and life. There is just life. Balance is not a goal to achieve, it is an everyday act to maintain equilibrium. Once we stop trying to chase after something elusive and gain perspective on how we are actually living our lives, I think more people will find a daily equilibrium which works for them.

  2. I agree, Susan. Every day may have a different balace and emphasis depending on whether the priority is legal work or family needs, marketing imperatives or networking opportunities and of course making sure to fit care for yourself into the picture, but it is just a fluid transition from one part of life to another. If I manage to check off at least my top business and personal ‘to do’s’ — its a good day!

  3. Thanks for an interesting article. However, working as a junior lawyer in age commercial law firms London and Paris, I find work/life balance is an utopia. At least for people who need more than four hours of sleep per day…