I wanted to be a lawyer since I was 10. For years, I was driven through this single vision tunnel to achieve my dreams and make my parents proud in the process… after all who doesn’t want a daughter for a lawyer. So determined in my desire to ‘make it’, I did not foresee the challenges that lay ahead of me and the eventual burnout that was to come.
I was a woman. I was of Asian descent. So how hard could it be to get a training contract with a reputable law firm? EXTREMELY HARD, despite having the grades. Luckily (or should I say with sheer determination), I found a way to turn my challenges into opportunities and thanks to the Windsor Fellowship, I landed an internship followed by the elusive yet much desired training contract with a top 3 London city law firm.
Fast forward many long days and nights in the office, as the time to qualify as a solicitor neared, my goal was to leave and go in house, lured by the better work life balance afforded to in house counsel. Fast forward several more years in the investment banking industry with still more long days and nights and a husband now in the mix, I was still determined to “have it all”. Truth be told, for a while I did – I worked and played hard but it was not sustainable long term. Not as a woman and not for the life I subconsciously craved even more. The burnout did not manifest itself physically (though there was a severe lack of sleep and impact on my immune system over the course of many years) but more in the form of anxiety.
As it turns out, I had inadvertently set my career up to become the least supportive vehicle for “having it all”. How was this profession ever going to give me what I wanted – a career and a family? There was no part time options, no flexible working, no working from home. It was all or nothing and at some point I was going to have decide which mattered more. All these dilemmas and hypothetical debates just exasperated the anxiety of the choices I had made.
So when the opportunity arose to leave, I took it. I had no plans and for a couple of years I did some consultancy work before I took real time out from the law. I moved countries and then set up my own business in something entirely different but still pursuing a passion – this time food!
Organic spices are a far cry from 300 page offering memorandums but there was so much to learn and learn is what I did. I enriched my understanding of business, the struggles, the highs, the requirement to be multi-disciplined as a small business, the risk analysis required to mitigate and avert detrimental impact on your business, people managing and dealing with ordinary non corporate people.
For years I thought I had fallen out of love with the law and could never and would never entertain the thought of returning. However, it was when we had a young family that the light bulb went on. It was not the law I had dread of going back to but the City and the lifestyle and expectations that accompanied working in the City.
Time out for children is often used to encourage reflection, inflection and time to calm down. Time out in the legal profession is not easy to have and still hold on to your job BUT it is an invaluable tool to help us get reconnected to why we chose to become a lawyer, what we want out of life and what matters most. Whether it is to spend more time with our children, to travel more or to set up a different venture, that time for reflection is needed before it is too late and should we choose to go back to law, those life experiences will give us perspectives we didn’t have before to become not just even better lawyers but also more mindful ones.
Going back to the law was timely for me with the opening up of the freelancer or consultant lawyer market in the United Kingdom and this model gave me what I had been so anxious about all those years ago. Finally, I had the ability to practice law in a way that was flexible and that didn’t force me to choose between time with my family and time being a lawyer and this time, no longer with tunnel vision but armed with an abundance of personally gained business insights and knowledge that I can use to help other small businesses in a way traditional lawyers can’t.
Time out is the best decision I took. For some who take time out from the law, life takes them down a different path with no need or desire to return to the law. It doesn’t really matter whether you return or don’t, what is important is to honour the passion and love for law you had in the beginning and not let burnout tarnish that.