If I’ve never explained this properly before, I’m currently working as an Articled Clerk. It’s a term that no one seems to understand (not even me). Sometimes we’re called Students-at-Law (which I personally feel is so much more bad-ass…). Articling is the one-year span following graduation from law school where graduates work with a “Principal” to complete our “articling checklists” before we take the bar course and write the bar examination and (hopefully, if all goes well), become a full-fledged lawyer. Essentially, it’s the “on the job training” component of our career, and it can be quite demanding by times. We have to complete particular tasks across certain areas of law (family law, criminal law, administrative law, etc.).
I’m luckier than my fellow articled clerks, I’d venture to wager. Since law school began we were fed stories about how demanding the life of an articling student is. That’s the thing about law school – and the legal profession in general – from day one, we’re told horror story after horror story about how only the strongest survive. It’s a terrible way to learn. Instead of actively engaging and learning, I was left feeling as though it was only a matter of time before I flunked out.
But, I digress.
Most students work at a law firm following graduation and complete their articles there. In our small province, there are a limited number of positions for a growing number of students, so the environment is quite competitive. As I have been known to do, I carved out my own pathway to articling. I took a full time job at an administrative tribunal, and because I won’t be able to complete all components of my checklist, there, I’ll have to work somewhere else in the coming year to round my experience out. (Which should be interesting…).
I’m lucky in that my job allows for some flexibility, and my boss is extremely understanding. Everyone knows I have a young child, and that my spouse can occasionally travel for work. But, not everyone is as lucky as I am. That’s why I wanted to share my top 5 tips for balancing a demanding professional career with a family.
- Ask for what you want. And be realistic. I’m a firm advocate in being up front and honest with all employers and prospective employers. Let them know what your commitments are up front, rather than hitting them with it later on down the line. For example, I was able to negotiate a bit of a later start time in the morning because – well, four year olds – as long as I work a bit later in the evening, which works perfectly for us.
- Establish child-care ‘rhythms’. My spouse works later than I do, so he takes our daughter in in the mornings and I pick her up. It’s the same thing every day, and it cuts down on confusion. Also, find a good babysitter and treat him or her like gold. They will be your lifeline.
- Schedule some alone time. Life can be pretty insane these days, but I find a Thursday night peer counselling group has saved my life. I’m off duty on Thursday nights, and it is amazing. It’s a small glimpse of that glorious child-free life all over again. It helps me get through the week. Same thing goes for scheduling time with your partner. You both need some time together – don’t lose sight of how important this is! Also, hobbies. I can’t express enough the importance of you both finding and exploring hobbies during this crazy period of life. It’s important for our kids to see that we’re individuals, too.
- Time blocking. I do this informally, but would like to explore it more formally in the future. For example, I always try to blog on Sunday afternoons while my daughter ‘naps’ (or, while she sings in her room during ‘quiet time’, which is and always will be mandated because – sanity). For me at this point in my life, it’s more about establishing rhythms and capitalizing on time that is available but somehow overlooked.
- Delegate. Delegate anything and everything. The lawn cutting, the dog walking, the cooking or cleaning. Anything helps. Take some of the pressure off yourself. And don’t even begin to see it as money wasted – it’s the best money you can or ever will spend.
In this day and age, many of us are working multiple side gigs and a 9-5. It is so important to figure out what works for you and what prevents you from burning out, especially early in your career. Most of us have a good 30-40 working years left to put in, and we can’t afford to be struggling through this early on in the game. For example, because I have a child, I took a job with less stress and fewer demands, simply because I knew I wanted to be equally involved in her upbringing, too. So far I haven’t regretted my decision once. Will I be a hot shot famous lawyer? Nope – I certainly won’t be. But I’d rather make a comfortable living and be home with my daughter as much as I can be, anyway. It works best for all of us.