The process of becoming a lawyer in the Philippines is a long winding road consisting of four years of undergraduate / college, a college of law entrance exam* to get into your preferred law school, four years of law school, four to five months of bar review, four Sundays of taking the Bar exam, passing the Bar, signing the roll of attorneys, and taking your oath as a lawyer.
When you’re a law student having to deal with the voluminous cases to read, you just want time to pass quicker and fast forward to a time when you are already a lawyer. Law school with all its pressures, the professors, the daily socratic-method interrogation, your over-achieving peers, tend to get a bit much. You may succumb to daydreaming about what it would feel like just becoming a lawyer already. Hehe.
Law firm life
Meanwhile, law firm lawyers who are dealing with their difficult cases and looking for a law or jurisprudence to invoke for their clients while the boss, or the law firm partner is breathing down their neck, often yearn for a simpler time back in law school when reciting for the professor was their biggest worry.
As a law firm lawyer who is paid a premium for time-billing clients, you now have to account for each and every minute of your
life working time. Time spent driving while thinking about your client’s case, three minutes; talking on phone while your client extends the conversation in their personal life, 40 minutes; travelling to hearings or meetings, 50 minutes. All billable to your client.
See how much your mere minutes matter? In a law firm, you’re paid as hard as you work.
There’s usually a basic salary plus your share from your billable hours, contingency bonus when you win your client’s case, travel allowances, and other monetary perks. Your work time, more often than not, crosses over to your personal and family time. Can’t come to your friend’s wedding in Cebu as you’re tied up in work? You’ll have to miss that important family function this weekend to meet that pleading deadline or console that clingy client’s woes. Work phone calls and emails are generally expected to be answered at all times, at the risk of incurring your client or your boss’ ire.
Law firm bosses generally frown on vacation leaves and taking time off work. Weekends and even your time abroad will not be sacred. Never doubt, work will come calling and contacting you through all avenues of communication. Just bring your laptop to your vacation so you’ll be ready to do some work there.
This is typical for lawyers working in major law firms, especially when you’re starting out. And the stress does not end at the law firm. Whether you work for your own practice, as corporate counsel, or even for government, some form of stress will follow you. The nature of a lawyer’s job is to worry about the life, property, and liberty of another person. That’s a full time job worrying about other people’s business!
The grass always feels greener on the other side.
The law firm work culture is often worse in biglaw firms in the US. So it doesn’t really surprise me why personal finance blogger and former biglaw lawyer Kevin of Financial Panther quit being a lawyer entirely for other pursuits such as blogging and side gigs. If you’re a law student working on your law degree while reading this, I’m sure it is pretty difficult to comprehend why anyone would do that.
Kevin’s work was not limited to law firms, either. He tried working for the government and even for a non-profit organization. I speculate that his financial independence probably has more to do with his quitting rather than the stress of law. Or probably both things weigh the same. Without financial independence, you’re probably more tied to your job than anything else.
With all that being said, I am personally happy with what I do. At least, for now. Haha. Lawyering is still stressful, having to read all my voluminous case files but as a government lawyer, I find fulfillment in rendering public service, free to exercise my ideals. Without going into the details of my job, I feel like I’m on the right side of the table, serving my country and not just some moneyed individual fighting for more money, which is
often sometimes the case in private practice. The best part about working for government is that I’m no longer expected to dress to the nines. There is virtually little to no costuming cost.
I’m hoping I don’t blow your bubble by writing about this. But let’s be real, if the foregoing kind of life is not for you, maybe try a career other than law. You will save yourself the trouble, the time, and the money.
What is your job/profession? What kind of work stressors do you have to deal with and how do you overcome them?
For the lawyers – How do you feel about being a lawyer? Did it meet your expectations/ideals?
*The Philippine Legal Education Board requires prospective law students to pass the Philippine Law School Admission Test (PHILSAT). There was no such qualifying exam in my time. The Supreme Court recently restrained the prior requirement of passing the PHILSAT as a qualification for studying law.