By Katrina Richards • June 15, 2010•Writers in Residence
I've been talking with some other law clerks at my court who, like me, are on the precipice before plunging into our first "real" law firm jobs. Being a law clerk at a state appellate court has had some great benefits. The hours are totally predictable, we have learned a lot, and we have been afforded the time to really discuss and debate the more academic side of the law, as well as seeing the inner workings of the judicial decision-making process. Now we are about to leave the nest a second time and find out if we really can learn to fly, rather than free-falling into an altogether different career path. Our law clerk gatherings have resulted in more wonderings and questions about our future careers than anything else.
One reoccurring question is, "Will we really be worked and worked until we get completely burnt out from practicing law?" My co-worker, Lacey has been hired at a larger, well-known firm that has branch offices all over the state. Every time she tells someone where she'll be working, she inevitably hears, "A buddy of mine says they work their new associates very, very hard. And the pay is not that great."
Frankly, the pay is not great for many new associates in this current market, but these types of statements still have her asking questions about setting limits on how much work they give you. For example, if you already have ten projects that you know are going to take you forty hours each, is it really practical to take on another two projects? Can you tell your supervising attorney that you are too busy to handle something else? How will you know when it is appropriate to delegate a task? Is there a general rule for these types of questions, or is it specific to each firm?
I, on the other hand, will be starting at a smaller firm in a smaller town in the next month, but I am still faced with similar questions. Will I be able to see my kids during the week? Will I totally miss out on the next few years of their athletic events, first days of school, piano recitals, even birthdays? Will I be forced to become the proverbial working mother who sacrificed too much for her career?
I do understand that I will have to adequately prepare for trials and hearings and depositions, but I am going to try my utmost to schedule preparation time into the work week and be as efficient as possible in getting things done. (I know that is kind of a hollow statement because I have yet to be faced with the real life implications of being an attorney.) I know at the outset that I am going to set limits for myself and that my family always comes first. One part of "family coming first" is knowing that I have to have some type of a job to pay the bills, but selling my soul to provide for them is not an option. I want to be there for my son's first day of kindergarten, and I want to watch his first soccer game. My employer hired me knowing that I have children, and I accepted the position knowing that he has five kids of his own and another star attorney there just had her fourth child. I am hoping that choosing an environment that looks family-friendly from the outside will work out for my own family situation. But only time will tell.
What about Lacey? She is single and does not have any kids yet. As a working wife and mother, I can more easily set limits to my employer based on my family obligations: I can say that I can't stay late because I have to go help do X and Y for my family, have to take a child to the doctor, and on and on. How can a single person set limits on being overworked without looking insubordinate, or even lazy? Does "I have to let my dog out" work as an excuse for not staying ridiculously late at the office? What about, "I'm done. I'm going home."? My guess, knowing Lacey, is that she will do everything that is asked of her, and she will do it well. She is a hardworking, ambitious young lady who managed to juggle more than her fair share of tasks while in law school, all while enduring some complicated situations with her family. But what happens when and if she decides to "settle down" and have children? Will her workload remain the same? Will her employers still require the same Super Woman work ethic from her? Only time will tell, I guess. By that time, I suppose, she will most likely have enough experience to go out on her own, or find a place that will accept her changed role.
Next month, I will be able to provide an update on my situation as a brand new associate attorney and how that has fit in with my expectations, my hopes, and my attempt to remain an active part of my kids' lives while having a career.