03 December 2018

By trainee solicitor Anna Sinka

When you approach the start date of your training contract you will have many questions. How do seat rotations work, who are the department supervisors, how does my work calendar function and how often does my department socialise? One question which you might be hesitant to bring up – does my life outside of work have to stop when I begin a career in law? Can I reconcile my hobbies with my deadlines?

When I joined Burges Salmon, (one of) my main concerns was whether I would have to quit my musical activities – I usually rehearsed at least one evening a week with one of several orchestral groups I had joined in the year I lived in Bristol as a student. I wasn't sure if this was an appropriate question to ask supervisors – can I leave work every Tuesday for this non-work commitment and still be taken seriously? The answer is – of course, but it makes sense to have a plan and consider the following common sense advice:


Burges Salmon is very supportive of the fact that lawyers have lives outside of work, be these caring commitments, social, or otherwise, and understands that these should be supported and encouraged. Most people would not hesitate to encourage you to leave on time to make it to rehearsal - IF you learn to manage your time effectively and communicate clearly. Naturally no one, in any walk of life, will appreciate you disappearing halfway through an £X million completion to attend a sports fixture you didn't think to mention to anyone. Making it clear that you will be out of the office at a particular time (after hours) on a certain day (but can follow up on XYZ at another time) will go a long way to reassuring your colleagues that you are switched on and committed to your career and the lifestyle that goes with that.

Be realistic

As a student I used to travel to Birmingham in the afternoons three to four times a month to meet friends and dance with a Latvian folk dancing group (yes, really). I very quickly understood that leaving work at 5pm for warm-ups at 6:45 in Birmingham city centre was at best unrealistic. I reluctantly gave this up, and now satisfy myself with the occasional weekend trip. If your hobbies will actively interfere with your work life, no amount of wrangling is going to make it a good idea to continue. Try and balance what you can reasonably to continue as a professional, against what should be left behind with your nocturnal student sleep schedule.

Be flexible and be kind to yourself

Naturally not all work can be dropped at 5:30 for a life drawing class (even with advance warning and a diary entry) – sometimes your peers, your supervisors and your department will simply need your help. Remember, volunteering to pick up that piece of work that will keep you late but which will give you the chance to work on a new interesting matter for an associate you haven't worked for before is as valuable to your development and life experience as the satisfying squinting at a life drawing model. Showing that you are flexible and hardworking despite personal commitments will only count in your favour, and there is always next time. Work and extra-curricular activities help define you as a person but don't forget to also have some time to yourself. You are no good at reviewing contracts or contributing to your Mongolian language class if you have your eyes propped open by toothpicks like Bugs Bunny.

At the end of the day….

Ultimately recognise that balance is key and both sides of the coin benefit you in the long run. In the year since my training contract began I have played 10-12 concerts and joined a third orchestra (over committing? Never!), and yes, I have missed a few rehearsals, but I’ve always found time to go to plenty. There are many health benefits from you having interests and activities not centred around a completion boardroom or after work Friday drinks; and if it makes you happy, you will be a better person and solicitor – in that order.

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