This Big Law Job Involves 11.25-Hour Stretches Without Human Interaction

We recently
ran a Quora postby a corporate law associate who provided details about a typical “busy day” and “not-busy” day at work to explain why so
many lawyers are unhappy.

While his busy day — lasting until 3:45 a.m. and starting hours later — sounds painful, his not-busy day sounds depressing too. It involves long periods of isolation, not much stimulation, and still lasts until 8:45 p.m.

The day starts at 7 a.m. when the lawyer checks his work email right away. Since there are no immediate fires to extinguish, the lawyer goes to the gym and heads into work by 9:30 a.m.

The rest of the day is spent in almost total isolation, proofreading and marking documents. At one point, the lawyer gets up to get coffee just to have a chance to speak to somebody. The lawyer is “a little happier” because of brief conversations with the cashier in the cafeteria, people at a coffee shop, and people in document services.

“Otherwise, I just spent the last 11.25 hours alone in my office proofreading and marking documents without any human interaction,” the lawyer writes.

How quickly would you burn out if your “easy” day were more than 11 hours long and filled with drudgery?

As former BigLaw partner Steven Harper has said, part of the problem for lawyers like this one is that the drudgery of the law conflicts with their expectations going into law school.

“People go to law school thinking they’re going to grow up to be Atticus Finch or Alicia Florrick, and actual practice turns out to be quite different,” Harper has told the legal blog Above the Law. “Real life doesn’t bear much resemblance to such images.”

Things have gotten worse for associates in recent years because new ranking lists have put more pressure on corporate law firms to be hugely profitable, Harper has said in an NPR interview. As a consequence, young lawyers often sit behind their desks doing grunt work and billing hours instead of, say, sitting in on a trial and getting mentored.

“You didn’t go to law school because you thought you’re getting to sit in front of a computer screen for hour after hour after hour reviewing documents,” Harper told NPR.

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