“Working for a top-tier commercial or corporate law firm is not for the faint-hearted, but if one is willing to embrace the challenges and put in the effort required, the rewards are immense.”
A glimpse into the life of a young corporate lawyer.
Working for a top-tier commercial or corporate law firm is not for the faint-hearted, but if one is willing to embrace the challenges and put in the effort required, the rewards are immense. In my experience, the common trait shared by most practitioners in top-tier commercial law is that we love what we do. Genuinely.
Some may find it difficult to understand how we repeatedly work 70 hour weeks, and this is a fair enough question. Here, I will try to explain how top-tier commercial lawyers survive the insanity.
The hours at a top-tier commercial firm can at times verge on inhumane, but with a degree of organization, one can certainly maintain a meaningful life outside of work. In my experience, heavy work periods come in waves. For the past four weeks, I have worked between 12 and 14 hours per day Monday-Friday, and 5-10 hours on Sunday. I understand this sounds outrageous, however it’s important to remember that I do not, and am not expected to, work these hours every week. That being said, it is expected that we will participate in these hours with no hesitation when it is required of us.
It’s not uncommon for me to eat three meals a day at work. Breakfast and lunch is usually provided by a catering service for the whole office building (i.e. not just our firm), then a Deliveroo or UberEats order will be made and covered by the firm for dinner. I don’t mind this so much, because I’m not a good cook and I save a lot on groceries. On a more serious note though, I am able to work these hours because I don’t have the responsibility of a family. For those with young children, it can be very upsetting for them to regularly miss family meal times. If you are contemplating a career in commercial law, I would also seriously consider when you are planning to have children. This is somber thing to have to think about but definitely important.
The key point to remember is that we do not measure “progress” by the number of hours we have worked, but rather by the outcomes we achieve. We do have billable hour targets, but I don’t know anyone who finds these unreasonable in relation to our salaries. If the office is really getting too much for us, we are provided with laptops and remote connectivity, which allows us to work from home effectively. I find this very useful, as sometimes it is nice to just get out of the office and work in a more comfortable environment. Others prefer to pull longer hours at the office, and keep their homes work-free. To each their own.
The Social Lyf
Perhaps the most important step in achieving happiness in a top-tier firm is accepting that, to be blunt, the partners do not care about you in the slightest. They are not interested in your grandmother's 80th, Dad’s wedding, or your anniversary and how these events will affect your ability to reach a deadline. As much as this may not seem fair, complaining about it will not serve you well. My advice is to accept this fact early and learn to prioritize. Of course, some social events (such as the ones mentioned) are of more significance than getting pissed every weekend with the same group of people you go to work with every day.
I choose to follow this rule. I prioritize social events that are of the utmost importance, which can at times be disappointing. I am 28 years old and while I am past my wild partying days, there are many friends who I wish I could see more often. This being said, the social calendar is always jam-packed in a top-tier commercial law firm. Last December I had three different Christmas parties (all involving the firm) in the space of 8 days!
In all honesty, when you see a group of people so regularly, it’s difficult not to become good friends with them. I see this as one of the biggest positives in working for a top-tier.
To finish, I will explain what legal issues I actually deal with. I work as a 3rd year lawyer in an insolvency and restructuring (I&R) practice. We act for accountants who have been appointed over insolvent companies, debt finance providers, multinational and domestic entities and, less frequently, individual company directors. I find my particular line of work fascinating, but it is just one of many practice areas my firm covers. One of the biggest pulls of corporate law is both the breadth of practice areas and the depth of engagement in these practice areas. I did not start as a graduate at a top-tier firm, but I can see that a key advantage of doing so is that one gets to rotate through 2 or 3 different practice groups, building skill in different teams (both litigious and non-litigious) and learning what they most enjoy. Ultimately, I would encourage anybody with an interest in commercial law to give it a try. I wouldn’t have thought as a university student that I would be able to cope with the long hours, however I’m now three years in and thoroughly enjoying the challenge, and I’m sure some of you will too.