So you’ve decided to study law– great! But you’ve just hit the proverbial tip of the iceberg in making that decision. With so many types of law on offer it is difficult to know which practice area is right for you. You find yourself asking these types of questions: What practice area(s) seem most interesting and engaging? What areas of legal work remain lucrative business during a time of recession? Are there areas that allow you a better work-life balance?
It’s not a straightforward decision to make, and we at TLP hear you, so in this post we tackle the last of those three questions, and provide you with an overview of some practice areas that seem to offer better work-life balance than other areas.
Ancillary Transactional Work
Transactional work (e.g.; banking & finance or private equity) is notorious amongst lawyers for having long working hours and often tight deadlines. However, not all transactional work requires regular burning of the midnight oil. The key is to be in a practice area that is (i) specialised; and (ii) in demand on MA deals, but (iii) ancillary to those deals. Things like tax, insurance and pensions fit the bill here.
Lawyers from those practice groups are almost always needed on deals. However since they are more focused on strategy (such as risk transference) and items that are ancillary to the deal getting done, they generally aren’t working until 2 or 3 am turning changes on the deal documents, and generally working hours are more predictable than other departments.
Family law cases can range anywhere from highly contested complicated court cases to simple prenuptial negotiations. Due to its nature, the working hours can be long in the run up to an important hearing. That said, this is the exception rather than the norm and work in this area does tend to be more predictable, allowing for very reasonable clock-off times.
Nick Bolter, partner and head of Intellectual Property at Cooley (UK) LLP expressed that “IP lawyers generally maintain a better/work life balance than in other areas of corporate and commercial law. This sector does not tend to involve horrendous hours and we rarely- if ever- work through the night.”
Private Client Law
Unlike most types of transactional work, private client work is typically characterised by the need to juggle several matters in a day rather than one or two big deals. While this means your day-to-day activities tend to vary, this area of law is less deadline-driven and is therefore more controllable than transactional work.
Construction law is an interesting area as it often involves both transactional and contentious (dispute resolution) work, which means that solicitors in this field split their time in the office and travelling to meet clients or visit the chambers to discuss contentious cases with clients, experts and barristers. Barring any adjudications and tight deadlines, working hours tend to be pretty good, and consistent.
Interestingly, sports law is actually a combination of different practice areas, often involving employment and commercial contracts, regulatory and tax issues. Work tends to have an international scope, as the UK sports sector does boast clients from Europe and the USA. Big deals can attract tight deadlines and a few late nights, but most transactions (such as ones on media rights) typically take two to three months to complete, so general working hours are fairly reasonable, and at the very least the team has a better idea of when work on that transaction is going to peak.
As we mentioned at the beginning of the post, strategically settling on a practice area requires consideration of several factors. To what extent are you willing to temper the prestige of a high pay cheque with finding enjoyment in the work that you do? Exactly what kind of work-life balance are you looking for?
A piece of key advice that many experienced lawyers often give to trainees starting out at the firm is to keep an open mind about which areas of law they would like to practice in. Many recounted experiences of sitting in a practice area they thought they’d dislike at first– yet years later they choose to qualify into said practice because they ended up finding it most suited to them.
It is worth remembering that work-life balance can also be defined by associating satisfaction by practice area. Almost any field can have a fair balance so long as you are comfortable with the practice that comes with it.
Words: Sofia Limpo
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