As chair of SAHCA, and a solicitor advocate of far too many years practice to mention, I have put time in to my work, and other parts of my life, in reality in excess of what is healthy both mentally and physically over the years.
This is not a feel good article, telling you how to resolve issues, and to work one hour a day. Rather this is a reflection on things that I did not do well, and sometimes things that went better. An important lesson I learnt early on was that if you make a mistake, don’t repeat it if you can avoid it, it just looks silly and is a waste of time. Listen to those that have been doing it longer and learn what works from them, learn the mistakes that they made, and try and avoid them. Most importantly I’ve learnt over the years is that you can repeat the things the one person does, and not achieve the same effect. No two circumstances are identical, no two outcomes are the same. We are all different people with different factors that affect us and the environment around us.
Path to the Law
I was not naturally drawn to the law, at 16 I wished to join the Army full time, or become a car mechanic, when both of these seemed insurmountable to the 16 year old me, I instead chose to do my A levels including law. This started me on my path to the law. Whilst not an excellent student at school, I scraped into University and got to study law. By this time I was firmly hooked.
I was the first in my family to attend University. At University I realised that working part time in a bar and studying law was not compatible. As such I need a new part-time job, and the Army came back to me, by what was then the Territorial Army and now the Army Reserve. As such my first lesson was to prioritise what is important. My law degree was important, but I need to earn enough money to get through, and save for my future legal training.
What did this teach me, at the time it taught me to work hard and play harder. This remained an important part of my life, and continues to be so. More importantly the Army has moved on from the days I joined where staying awake for 48 hours, was just something that happened. Today the Army has fully brought into working time directive, although exempted. The reason being drivers hours. On exercises each soldier and officer carries a piece of paper recording that they have eaten, and the time that they woke up, went on shift and had a break. These are signed daily by a line manager, and at the end of the exercise period, collected in, and reviewed.
Anyone that has more than 13 hours continuous duty, and had at least nine hours of rest, is duly disciplined,along with their line managers. As such by force the Army have enforced that their troops are properly looked after, and that this comes before all else on exercise. For operations this remains aspirational, but it is an important life lesson.
Yet many lawyers come nowhere near these typical working hours and regularly work far longer hours without meal breaks. 20 hours of work a day is simply unsustainable over the short term let alone the long term. Over five days it will cause a break down not just of your mental abilities but also your physical abilities. You are less likely to go for a run, you will put on weight, you become less focused. Your health is the most important thing you maintain, failing to do so not just shortens your life, but makes you less of a lawyer, and more of a liability.
As such one of the first lessons to be learned is to ensure that your working life balance is such that you are capable of being a lawyer. Of course there are those that wish to work themselves to their 30s and then retire. But if your aim is to have a career then this is not sustainable in the long term.
SAHCA, offers support to those that are struggling, and continue to work with various organisations to ensure that our members are able to work in a safe, healthy way, to ensure that the best advocates are solicitor advocates.