Popular culture has done little to accurately communicate the real-life working environment of the average lawyer, which for the most part isn’t nearly as dramatic as portrayed on-screen. However, one area in which the life of the working lawyer does surpass that of their cinematic counterpart is that of a hard and relentless workload.
Lawyers are often portrayed as playing out their days in luxurious offices lavished with finery – the reality of the job is a wholly different story.
Lawyers do most of their work in offices, law libraries and courtrooms. They may from time to time organize meetings in clients’ homes or places of business – perhaps in hospitals or even prisons where necessary. Daily duties range from the attending of meetings to the gathering evidence and preparing of case work – all of which proceeds appearances before any given courts, legislative bodies or other authorities. The higher-profile the case in question, the more pressure is placed on the shoulders of the lawyer who must perform with flawless consistency regardless of the case’s nature or severity.
Most attorneys, or at least those that intend to be successful in their pursuits, work what most would consider to be rather long hours. Evenings and weekends come as standard for the simple reason that their clients cannot be expected to give up their own nine-to-five lives for the sake of meetings and other interactions. Some will make efforts to stick to a standard eight hour working day, but when circumstances demand, there’s really no escaping what can often prove to be hugely extended working hours.
In the run-up to any one case going to court for example, a lawyer will always have their hand well and truly full. The kind of hours and intensity of efforts required will of course be determined by the nature and severity of the case – a first-degree homicide for example will demand a higher degree of focus than a simple misdemeanor. Experience, specialism and competence also play a role in determining exactly how many hours may need to be invested in any give case.
It’s not uncommon at all to hear of lawyers handling high profile cases chalking up in excess of 100 hours per week as this may be the only way of gathering, processing, analyzing and preparing all important information accordingly. But at the same time, a quiet period spent dealing with minor legal matters can facilitate a more conventional 40 to 50-hour working week.
Peaks and Troughs
Lawyers can expect a unique array of peaks and troughs with regard to working hours, which in most instances cannot be accurately predicted ahead of time. As far as peaks go, preparing for a trial tends to be the most demanding, stressful and intensive time for any lawyer as this is often what all efforts have been leading up to. Tying up the most minor of loose ends and triple-checking every last document along can really eat into a working week, month or even year.
On the whole, a predictable working schedule is one benefit most lawyers are anything but blessed with.
Round the Clock Access
In certain instances and as any given case demands, it may be necessary for a lawyer to remain on-call on a 24/7 basis should their clients or contacts feel it necessary to get in touch with them. This generally only applies to higher-profile cases and legal matters of a more serious nature, though represents a regular working reality for a large proportion of lawyers.
Often the only exceptions to the rule, salaried lawyers usually have much more structured work schedules. When a lawyer is taken on by a company, brand or government office to work exclusively within their confines and under their instruction, it’s common for standard working hours to be set which rarely change unless the business/office finds itself at the center of a legal dispute.