Published by Canadian Lawyer Magazine
From the long hours, stress, debt, competitive job market, and clients’ demands, a legal practice’s unique challenges are not always apparent to those considering it as a career option.
Sahil Shoor is now a partner at Gowling WLG in Waterloo, Ont. But in undergrad, he took science and planned on going to medical school. He got his first taste of advocacy when he worked for the student union helping students appeal their grades. He opted for law school over med school, which eventually led to his current litigation and dispute resolution practice.
Shoor was the first in his extended family to go to university and did not know any lawyers. “A career in law is very different than what we would see on TV,” he says.
Tara Vasdani, principal lawyer and founder of Remote Law Canada, knew she wanted to be a lawyer in high school. She was captivated by the social sciences and saw the law as a tool to drive policy change. But in law school, she quickly realized that the lawyers who challenged the legislative landscape or the prevailing social norms “weren’t necessarily your regular, everyday practising lawyer.”
She also expected to exercise more creativity and critical analysis when moving a file forward. Through law school and beginning her practice at a large firm, she realized things were more “black-and-white” and involved following precedents and working according to the firm’s established formula.
“It just became more and more and more refined, where I thought it would become more and more expansive,” says Vasdani.
As a “naïve 21-year-old,” Shoor says he did not appreciate that while the law is a profession, lawyers are also in the service industry. In law school, he had more time to complete his work. Practising, he quickly learned that if a client needs something for 3 pm, “your work product would probably have no value if you don’t deliver it on time.” The necessity of being service-driven and the ability to provide practical advice were requirements he was unaware of when applying to law school.
In the legal profession, stress is fuelling high levels of career dissatisfaction, and “rising workloads and shrinking staffs” result in longer hours and compromised work-life balance, according to “The 10 Challengers About a Career As a Lawyer,” from The Balance Careers.
“There is no question that the job is stressful,” says Shoor. “You’re working on extremely challenging and complex situations… But what I focus on is the end-product, the satisfaction that you get once you’re able to execute and deliver.”
Both Shoor and Vasdani note that taking care of physical and mental health is essential to face the stress of the job.
“The critique of that is the fact that because you’re working long hours, you don’t have time to prioritize your mental and your physical health,” says Vasdani. But setting goals and making “small daily changes” can significantly impact your health. While working long hours for a big law firm, Vasdani carved out one hour at lunch for a Pilates class. “It was amazing how much energy I had and how much my stamina improved for me – to be able to handle multiple files and, quite honestly, launching my own practice.”
It is essential to resist the urge to think about work when not at work, says Shoor. “You have to be able to compartmentalize so that you’re taking care of yourself [and] spending time with your family and friends and things that are important to you.”
Cultivating healthy personal relationships outside of law will provide a refuge from the stress, adds Vasdani. “Once you have the confidence on that side of your life, it automatically spills over into how you are able to carry yourself as a lawyer and how you’re able to deal with your workload.”
Enduring the long hours requires authenticity, says Shoor. The lawyer must genuinely enjoy the task at hand. While he has a taste for advocacy and intellectually challenging construction and infrastructure projects, Shoor could not stomach a career as a corporate lawyer because he does not find it interesting.
“Yes, the hours are long. Yes, there are times where you miss something as a result of those long hours… It has to be your calling.”