We are often told by lawyers looking for a new role, or by those outlining what type of opportunity they would consider, that they want a better work life balance. But what does this actually mean?
The straight answer is it means different things to different people. It is entirely subjective and it changes at the different stages of someone’s life. Obviously, there isn’t one universally accepted balance between work and life outside of work. We, as recruiters, have to try and get to the bottom of what a lawyer actually means in order to offer appropriate advice.
One lawyer might consider getting home for 9pm as a vast improvement in their work life balance whilst to another it means leaving the office at 6pm. One lawyer feels billing 2000 is manageable but 2500 is too much, another would feel 2000 is way over what they would find acceptable to their work life balance. One lawyer may say it’s about not having to work too many weekends and having annual leave respected and to another they simply don’t care and just like a little recuperation time to recharge before going under again for weeks.
However, it isn’t always about the hours. In my conversations with lawyers over the years I have found that for many individuals it’s about the culture and working practices of the team/firm that affect one’s perception of their work life balance.
A lawyer might perceive a good work-life balance as having flexible hours to manage family responsibilities, while for someone else, it could mean working from home occasionally to avoid commuting.
The influence of firm culture
The culture within a team can affect the hours a lawyer is willing to put in for the cause. If a lawyer feels undervalued and/or simply doesn’t like some of the personalities or behaviours in the team, then the hours can feel like a slog. The lawyer then tends to feel the resolution is to find a firm with a better work life balance, when in fact the hours aren’t the issue -it’s the culture. They would happily work the same hours in a better environment.
Therefore, when you say you want a better work life balance, it’s important to take the time to think about what you actually mean. Do you want to work less hours or do you want a more flexible arrangement? Do you think you want to work less hours or do you in fact just want to leave a toxic culture. Or are you disgruntled because you know you can be better compensated for the hours you are working at another firm.
A change in work life balance vs a change in your bank balance
The last point made leads us on to the elephant in the room which of course is the money! If a lawyer wants a genuine step change in the hours they work then typically that means (but not always) a big drop in pay.
An insight I can offer here is that when people say they want a better work life balance, money is not the driving factor in that decision. However, as they progress in the job search and attend interviews, their perspective can change. They may initially want to escape their current situation, but as they consider potential salary reductions, the idea of improving work-life balance can start to feel too costly.
When embarking on your job search, ensure that you have a clear understanding of what you expect from a prospective opportunity. Communicate this effectively to a recruiter, especially regarding your definition of work-life balance.
London is a huge and dynamic legal hub. Across the US, magic and silver circle, mid-tier, smaller and boutique firms there is something to suit your individual requirements. You simply have to really understand what they are and why!