Having been there myself, starting a career in law is a steep learning curve brimming with rewarding new experiences, change and growth. However, it can also be a period of nervousness and uncertainty as for many of us; we learn to grapple, for the first time, with acclimating to the corporate world, full-time work and coming to terms with the stark differences between studying law and practicing law.
Numerous studies in the last decade have ranked the legal profession poorly on work-life balance comparative to other professions. Fortunately, though, organisations such as the Tristan Jepson Foundation has put lawyers’ mental health and well-being at the forefront of discussions in the legal community in Australia for positive change and awareness. A long and successful legal career requires an appreciation from the get go of the benefits of knowing how to manage expectations, when to say no and when to seek support and assistance. Here are some simple but important words of advice on finding that balance from the beginning.
1) Maintain Your Interests Outside of Work
When you enter the workforce full-time for the first time, I think I can speak for most of us when I say that we enter this world with vigour, enthusiasm and a fervent eagerness to impress and grow. This attitude will, of course, bode well as you embark on your professional journey and establish your skills and abilities as a legal practitioner. It is however also equally valuable to make it a priority not to allow your new job to encroach or impede on your ability to do all the other things that you love. Make sure that you make time to continue your hobbies whatever that may be – playing sports, art, learning a new language, yoga and the list goes on.
2) Turn Off the Technology (at least sometimes)
Now more than ever, the millennial generation is hooked and dependent on technology – whether that is in the form of your smartphone, laptop, tablet, smart watches and so forth. In today’s world, everyone and everything is virtually within fingertips reach. The beauty, of course, is communication lines are always opened, and access to people and news is instantaneous. The downside though is that one can easily become a "slave", so to speak, to technology. I, for one, am incessantly on my phone - checking emails and social media and while I admittedly could not live without it, I do find the pace of technology to be at times tedious and draining.
There is something cathartic about turning off the technology and spending time just being in the present. Taking a day off to go on a hike, spending time with friends and family without constantly checking the phone will go a long way to keeping you feeling energised and refreshed.
3) Look After Yourself
Simple right? Goes without saying. However, when we start out, many of us in our 20s throw caution to the wind on our health and well-being. Some of us push our bodies too far often without even realising the manifestations of burnout occurring. Starting a career in law is unquestionably a busy time– you'll likely find yourself staying back late at work to finish off urgent matters, attending a plethora of corporate social events while also putting in your spare time to complete Practical Legal Training. Amongst all of that, try to find time to focus on you - listen and look after your body and mind. Also, reward yourself by making the most of your annual leave and long weekends.
4) Be Wary of Warning Signs
Be aware if you are regularly working long hours, taking on increasingly large volumes of work with deadlines that you feel are not reasonably achievable as well as being inadequately rewarded or supported for your efforts. In these circumstances, I implore you to reach out to your support network of family, close friends, trusted colleagues as well as mentors or “buddies” (which most law firms will allocate to you when you begin as a Graduate or first-year lawyer) for advice and support.
Also, be aware of physical warning signs such as lethargy, heightened anxiety or sadness, changes to your sleep pattern and appetite as well as a weakened immune system. There is a lot of support out there, make sure you speak up and seek advice - don’t go it alone.
This guest post article was written by Lin Lin. Lin graduated from the University of New South Wales with a double degree in Law/Commerce and started her career at an international private practice law firm before moving in-house where she has worked for a number of global companies. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.