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Is Working on Weekends and Holidays Necessary for Lawyers?

published April 14, 2022

( 37 votes, average: 4.2 out of 5)
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Mental health and work-life balance have been the latest buzzwords in every field these days especially with the Great Resignation happening as a consequence of the coronavirus disease 2019.
 

It is now a dilemma for most workers -- blue or white-collar professionals-- out there if they should work weekends. For lawyers, working weekends is part of the legal career-related topics that one should touch on nowadays.


Weekend work for lawyers especially those independently starting their law practice is a priority. Legal matters are often discussed during the weekend with clients, who are too busy on weekdays. There are also clients who preferred to meet during lunchtime when they are free.

Working on weekends and during holidays is a topic often discussed in the legal profession, especially when it comes to the most serious law firms. These law firms usually expect their lawyers to work long hours, which often include Saturdays and Sundays or times of holidays.

Many lawyers are not really happy with these expectations and believe they should not have to work during times when their friends or family enjoy their free time. They are unwilling to sacrifice their weekends and think they have worked hard enough to get into a law firm with prestige, so they do not have to compete now with other associates to stay there. However, that is not true.

Attorneys have to show their superiors and partners in the law firm that they deserve to be there and they deserve to get work. Senior attorneys in every law firm want to see that the law firm, its clients, and the practice of law are important for the attorney. The easiest way for any young associate to show this is by working hard and working a lot.

Of course, that does not mean that attorneys have to spend all of their weekends and all of their holidays working. Everyone needs some time to rest and reset and certainly, everyone deserves their vacation time. However, if an attorney wants to keep practicing law in a competitive law firm long-term and if they want to succeed, they cannot consider working in law firms as just a job. Most law firms want their attorneys to eat and breathe law to be sure that they made the right decision hiring them. That is why it is so important to not only be willing to work weekends and holidays but also want it.
 

Attorneys in Law Firms Are Not Entitled to Always Receive Work

 

The truth is, not every law firm has enough work. Law firms that do not have business or work at all are forced to close down, and the attorneys are then left looking for another legal placement they might not even find. Because of this, having to work over the weekend or on holidays is not something to be complained about, but rather to be commended. It means that you have some stability of work, which is not certain in the law profession and it also means the firm has money to pay your salary.

In BCG Attorney Search, we receive messages daily from attorneys who have been let go from firms because there was not enough work for them. This can be scary for any attorney because even the most talented lawyers can be negatively affected when the economy is bad and their firm does not have enough work.

You may also be in a situation where the high volume of work does not come from the firm but from the business you have generated yourself or helped a partner to generate. That is even better because it speaks to the quality of your own abilities and that they are in demand. If clients or partners chose different attorneys to do the work, that would mean that there is someone better in the firm that has a bigger chance for advancement or getting rewarded.

You should also keep in mind that it is always better to have the "problem" of having too much work and having to work over weekends than not having enough assignments to do and being at risk of losing the position.
 

Law Firm Can Only Earn Money by Attorneys Billing Hours

 


Looking at how the legal industry operates, a law firm makes money only by their attorneys billing hours to their clients or by contingency fees the firm gets only if they win, which requires the attorneys to put in the hours anyway.

Ordinary legal professionals in a law firm, whether junior or senior associates, generally know nothing about the law firm costs. They do not think about the office space costs, how much money is needed for salaries, bonuses, equipment, or even lunches with clients and partners. The bigger a law firm is, the higher these costs are and the only way to cover them is if their attorneys are billing hours.

This is one of the reasons why it is better to try to bill more hours than your peers in the firm. Law firms have all of these costs in mind when they are making their staff and advancement decisions. When they have to decide who they want to promote or, on the other hand, who they need to let go and one attorney bills significantly fewer hours for the firm, the decision is obvious. The moment an attorney does not bring enough money to the firm, they become a liability and their legal career is at risk.
 

Clients' Needs Are More Important Than Attorneys' Free Time in the Legal Profession

 


There are a lot of attorneys in our country, so when a client chooses you to solve their issue, they are putting a lot of trust in you. Their work usually involves important legal issues, the outcome of which can affect their business or even their lives, depending on what practice area they are in. Clients trust that you will do everything in your power to help them with their issue but they also trust that their problem and their case will be as important to you as it is to them. More important than the weekend plans with your friends.

The main job of an attorney is to solve clients' problems. Some problems require to be dealt with over the weekend or during holidays. If an attorney does not want to accept that, they are in the wrong profession. If you are one of those lawyers who do not enjoy working on the weekend, you should think about why you went into the law industry. If it was to help people, you should not think twice about sacrificing a few weekends. People's problems do not have weekends or vacation time.

And this does not include only time-sensitive issues. Clients want to feel like they matter to you even if their problem does not have an approaching deadline. When they are paying the large law firm fees, they want to know that their case is always at the forefront of their attorney's mind. They had the option to hire anyone and they chose you. You need to show them that they did not make a mistake by working hard and focusing on solving their issue even if it means working during times when you would want to be doing something else.
 

Only the Hardest Working Associates Will Be Considered for Partnership

 


Becoming a partner, especially in a major law firm, is a huge accomplishment only a certain number of the best and most hardworking attorneys achieve. Most lawyers never get the chance to become partners and law firms are generally seeking reasons against offering you a partnership. They are looking for any reason why not to advance you.

Law firms and their partnership decision-makers evaluate how many hours you have billed, how much vacation time you have taken out, your past successes and failures in your legal career, and anything and everything that happened in your professional past up to that point. They are looking for anything that would justify not promoting you and it could be the smallest thing you probably already forgot about, like refusing to help them over one weekend a year ago when you went to a family gathering.

The hours an attorney has worked and billed are often the reason for not promoting them. The problem is, that no one in a firm will want to warn you that you are billing significantly fewer hours than your peers. Why would they when this helps them make the difficult decision about who not to promote?

Even when a firm has numerous talented young attorneys they cannot increase the number of partner spots, so things like the number of hours or willingness and availability to work whenever it is needed matter a lot. Attorneys have to show they are committed to the firm and the best way to do this is by working a lot, even during weekends or holidays.
 

Once You Advance, You Will Probably Not Have To Work As Much

 


It is nothing new that associate lawyers work long hours and have to work a lot. Every attorney starts out like that and it was no different for the partners or senior associates who are assigning you the work now. They have been law students and junior associates before just like you and to get where they are now, they had to put in the hours, weekends, and holidays as well. I would even say that they were among those who put in the most work to be able to get where they are now. They put in a major effort and were able to get to the top of the hierarchy of the firm and now they have people underneath them to assign tasks.

If you work hard enough and build relationships with more senior associates and partners, you will be in their place one day. As a partner, you will be able to have free weekends and spend holidays as you wish. But first, you need to show your superiors that you are committed to the firm and that this is not just a job for you. When the assigning partner thinks that you are one of the promising associates as committed, passionate, and skilled as they were when they were at the beginning of their career, you will remind them of their own advancement. Someone with the wrong attitude will definitely not be on the top of their list for promotion.

Law firms also hire attorneys who are young because they believe that they have more energy and enthusiasm for generating money while also having fewer family responsibilities at home. Junior associates usually do not yet have families or kids, so they have more time to bill hours and work weekends in the firm's mind. While it may not be like that all the time, it is true for most junior associate careers. That is why law firms expect young associates to work so much and the best thing you can do for your legal career is to show them that you are capable of doing it.
 

Conclusions


Rest and time for relaxation are definitely essential for mental health and it is not different for attorneys. However, the nature of the legal industry sometimes requires lawyers to work over weekends or during holidays. Clients typically seek out attorneys when they have big problems or major transactions they are not able to handle themselves and they are putting their trust in the attorney's hands. These are often very sensitive issues that greatly affect the clients, so attorneys need to approach them with great care and importance. And that sometimes means working several weekends in a row or missing a few family holidays.

An associate's chance of advancing and making partners in the law firm hinges on their willingness to work a lot and sacrifice their time. I do not even know how many associate careers got stuck on them thinking they do not have to put their head down and work whenever it is needed.

If an attorney is not willing to do that, there is nothing wrong with that. There are many good reasons why billing 3000+ hours a year is not for everyone. However, when a lawyer knows that they do not want to sacrifice their weekends, they can forget about succeeding at the top law firms. There are smaller firms or firms in smaller markets, and other practice settings, such as an in-house counsel or the government, where attorneys do not have to work long hours, weekends, or holidays. But if you want to succeed in a major New York firm or any prestigious law firm in a major market, you have to be prepared to show your commitment by working and billing.

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