Monday, June 13, 2016

A Day in the Life: Biglaw Junior Litigator

Not my law firm's office, but this is what the office of a much more senior associate (or even a partner) might look like.

Now that I'm about to transition to my clerkship, I thought it'd be fun to lay out what an average day in my working life looks like. Note that the actual "day in the life" of a biglaw junior differs dramatically based on so many factors: One's practice group, the preferences of the partners one works with, how busy one's main cases or transactions are, etc.. I've been lucky to have steadier, more predictable, and generally more humane hours than many of my peers in different practice areas and/or peer firms. I'm also maybe about ~12 billed hours/month under the ideal total to maximize bonus eligibility, so my experience is likely not especially typical.

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Most law firm attorneys "bill" their time. "Billable hours" are what count, not the actual number of hours at the office. One's billable hours are at least a little less than the number of hours actually spent at work (lunch breaks, coffee breaks, etc. cannot be billed, nor can administrative tasks unrelated to a specific case).

I work in litigation, which often comes with steadier hours and more long-term projects (deadlines are commonly 1-3 days away rather than a few hours away), such that it is possible to arrange my working day to "bill" most of my time at the office. This is not always the case in many practices. Also, litigation is generally a lot less vulnerable to market fluctuations than the corporate practice groups. It's possible for a corporate associate in a financially healthy firm to bill, er, far less than 50-70 hours in a very slow month for their group. Whereas a litigation associate with a deathly "slow" month, the kind that makes a paranoid first-year worry about the overall state of the market, may still easily bill close to 100 that month.

On average, NYC biglaw attorneys should bill at least 2000 hours/year to maximize bonus eligibility. Many firms allow a small percentage of that total (maybe ~10%) to be spent providing pro bono legal services or other services to the firm and still count. Many people bill far more. Even 2200/year would correspond to more crazy weeks or weekends compared to someone at 2000/year (with both also taking about three to four weeks of vacation, our typical allowance). I'm only on track for ~1850 hours if I spent the rest of the year working at my current rate, after taking almost three weeks of vacation. That number involves about three days a week that look like the one below, where I work steadily all day past 8 PM and can bill a delivery food dinner and car home to my client, a typical job "perk." The other two days, I head home by 6 PM, though I might take a call or work briefly from home. Roughly 60% of my weekends are completely free. The rest of the time, I put in about one to three hours/day on Saturday and/or Sunday. Once in a long while (only thrice so far), I needed to work full days though the weekend.

8:40 AM - I set my alarm for 8:20 or 8:40, depending on whether I have a morning meeting or something due in the early afternoon. I have an extensive skincare routine, which takes ~15 minutes to apply because I wait a few minutes after each of the Paula's Choice BHA and C15 Vitamin C Serum steps. I browse the web on my phone or computer while I wait. Sometimes there is a work email waiting for me, but if so, it's typically something that I can deal with when I get to the office.

9:15 AM - Time to head out! My commute takes around 30 minutes, whether I walk or take the bus to the subway. I usually walk, both for fitness and because I enjoy it, but I get too sweaty in NYC's humid summer weather, so I opt for the bus. For my commute, I wear my perforated leather Vans or Fitflops during the summer, switch to the Sam Edelman Petty booties or Madewell Archive boots in the fall, and wear rain boots as-needed. My L.L.Bean boots are my winter commuting shoes.

9:45 AM - I typically arrive between 9:30 and 9:50. By then, the secretaries have been in for a while, but a good half of the lawyers won't trickle in for another fifteen minutes. A 10:00 AM average arrival time is not unusual for most biglaw firms in NYC, but our colleagues in other regions start their day earlier, but also tend to leave the office to work from home earlier. I keep most of my work-appropriate shoe collection in my office, as do many of my women colleagues, and I change into my work shoes. My current favorite are a pair of flats from Louise et Cie, similar to these, but in tan with a black bow. They're very comfortable.

I don't eat breakfast often, which isn't too healthy, but I find that I get hungry for lunch very early whether I eat breakfast or not. Breakfast is usually hard-boiled eggs, oatmeal, or a handful of almonds. I don't need coffee, but the firm provides it. 

Click through to keep reading about my average day at work!

11:30 AM - Regardless of whether I had breakfast, I'm generally quite hungry by now, so I grab lunch, which I usually eat at my desk while working. I typically go to the firm cafeteria, which is subsidized and a good value. I'm perfectly happy to eat the same thing almost every day, so I usually make a salad from the pay-by-the-ounce salad bar: baby spinach, chickpeas and kidney beans, whatever other veggies look good, some cheese, and either grilled chicken or fish. It usually costs around $4.00. Desk lunches aren't fun or social, but working through lunch can sometimes facilitate being able to go home earlier in the evening. 

Sometimes I'll get a call in the morning with something that needs to be done on short notice. It's usually nothing too onerous because my other deadlines are far off enough that I can shift my to-do list for the day without too much trouble. An urgent deadline could make lunch happen a little later than usual.

1:30 PM - At some point, I pause work briefly to make tea. I buy loose leaf tea at my local grocery store and bring it to work. The firm provides some, but I just don't like the kinds they have. I generally also have a small square of dark chocolate as a snack. 

4:00 PM - This is terrible for my wallet and not super great for my health, but I usually feel compelled to get up from my desk and get another snack in the afternoon, which can involve a Starbucks latte, a cookie or cup of soup at Pret a Manger, or a packaged snack at the heinously overpriced deli nearby. 

Most of any given workday is spent at my desk, and quite a few important discussions regarding work are done by phone with my headset on, so this snack-buying habit has more to do with the urge to leave the building and get some fresh air than hunger. (My lunch salad tends to be on the light side, so I'm often a little hungry, but the more cost-effective way of getting my snack fix would be to buy in bulk at the grocery store.)

6:10 PM  - Because this is a later day at the office, I'll be ordering dinner and billing it. Although I'm generally not hungry yet, delivery can take up to an hour, and I tend to order earlier than most because I have trouble focusing when I'm hungry.

7:00 PM - My food's arrived, and I pick it up in the lobby. I generally continue working while I eat at my desk.  By this time, I usually don't expect any further emails or calls with anything to do that day, unless it's something really unusual or urgent.

8:30 PM - I take the car service home. I prefer to be intense about billable work every day, so I've generally finished enough of it to go home around 8:00, but sometimes it feels like a good idea to keep going. I have a hard time continuing long past 9:00 though, and will only stay past 10:00 if I absolutely have to. That's a bit prissy of a stance to take for someone so junior, even in litigation (where late night work emergencies for us are sometimes less likely), but it's been alright with my particular set of cases.

9:10 PM - I get home and head promptly to the gym. I've been trying to work out around three times/week this calendar year, and I've generally stuck with it! Gym expenses are one area where I'm more frugal than most of my peers: I work out in my apartment building's reasonably well-appointed fitness room and the fee (which was mandatory for all tenants anyway) works out to about $11/month, which is fantastic for NYC gym expenses, even other in-building gyms.  I'm not a morning person and I tend to sleep late, so in the evening after work is the only possible workout time slot. I'm not the most rigorous person when it comes to my exercise routine: 20 to 30 minutes of cardio is my usual. I add strength training about once a week and barely have any idea of what I'm doing with that. 

10:15 PM - Time to shower after the gym. I might also start my skincare routine now. The rest of my evening is free time, when I hang out with K and indulge in various combinations of Netflix, web browsing, reading other blogs, and working on this blog. There are also weeks where I'm too mentally tired to even particularly think about reading other blogs, much less work on my own.

1:00 AM - Bedtime! This is a really late bedtime for a working adult, I know, and because it takes me a while to fall asleep, I often get a little less than seven hours of sleep each night. 

Are any of you also night owls who sleep later than working adults are probably supposed to? Does anyone else struggle to break the habit of frequently buying snacks at work? Any tips on learning how to do strength training would also be much appreciated.

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