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So, is it true? Do new associates work all the time? When was the last time they slept in on a Saturday morning, or lost themselves in the latest Harry Potter book? We asked. An informal survey revealed that associate life isn’t as draconian as it’s cracked up to be. We talked to a handful of associates, from a 50-year-old second-career associate to a sixth-year associate for a mid-sized firm. Not every associate or firm wanted to be named. But they were mostly happy to chat about their days, their evenings, and how they manage to make their lives work.
What’s your strategy for meeting your billable-hours requirement? If your firm doesn’t require a certain number of hours, do you have a plan to keep up the hours overall? Tracy Davis, 27, a fourth-year associate at Bracewell & Giuliani: I try to shoot for billing seven or eight hours a day, but that doesn’t always happen. In the last year or so, I’ve been pretty busy, so I have the work to do that. And when I have a slower time, I have projects I can go to then. Daniel Stanco, 29, a second-year associate with Clifford Chance: I don’t know if I have a strategy as much as I have a very focused effort on recording time properly. The hardest part is keeping track of every hour you work — you have to be diligent about doing that. You don’t want to under-represent or over-represent your hours. Ann O’Connell, 29, a second-year associate at Covington & Burling: Although I try to avoid working late nights, when work starts piling up, I’m definitely willing to pick a night — say, Wednesday — to stay late so that Thursday and Friday are better. I’m also willing to work on a Saturday to clear my plate so the following week is as normal as possible. A sixth-year, 33-year-old associate at Arnold & Porter: Arnold & Porter doesn’t have a minimum hours requirement. But what I’ve done to meet my own goals, which I’ve done since I started, is try to maintain a diverse mix of work and pro bono work, and that requires balancing multiple projects. When I was more junior, I would volunteer to handle multiple aspects of a case. As I’ve become more senior, I’ve decided to work on multiple matters with a range of interesting work. Having too little on my plate has rarely been an issue. When I was a first-year associate, I was given excellent advice to do the best work I could on the assignments I was given, and getting enough work would never be a problem. A sixth-year, 38-year-old D.C. associate with a Chicago-based firm: I don’t really have a strategy per se. Even though 2,000 is what they expect, it’s aspirational. You don’t get fired if you come in at 18 and change. I won’t make 2,000, and that’s partly because in a regulatory practice you don’t get those hours. But one thing I try to do is work with a transactional lawyer within the firm and get hours that way. But then if work picks up in my regulatory practice, then you have too much. But I’m not pulling my hair out worrying. A second-year, 50-year-old associate with a D.C. firm: I always try to maintain three or four projects. Sometimes things are active, and sometimes they’re not. If I have four, usually only two are active at the same time. A second-year, 30-year-old associate with a D.C. firm: We’re one of the firms that doesn’t have a requirement, although you feel you want to do a certain number. Actually, it’s not something I’ve had to think about — it just happens naturally. August in D.C. was a bit slow, but that’s the only month that it ever occurred to me. Thankfully, I work on a big pro bono matter, so there’s always work to do. Lindsay Kaplan, 29, a fifth-year associate with Clifford Chance: I really don’t have a strategy. We don’t have a billable hours requirement, and so my strategy is to do the work we have. What about vacation? How much do you take, and how do you plan for it? Davis: My first couple of years, I didn’t take any big vacations, just Christmas or weddings. But last summer, my husband and I were gone for two weeks. I tried to be more conscious of it in the first half of the year. And in the future I want to try to take more — I realized how great it was not to think about work. Stanco: I’ll be honest — I haven’t had any problems being able to take the vacations I planned to take. I got married a year ago and I had to take a significant amount of time off. The firm was very accommodating. And the best part was that they didn’t bother me. Even though I know of people who have had to cancel vacations, and you sort of know that you’re going to be connected by BlackBerry. O’Connell: Prior to joining Covington last fall, I had taken a four-month break following my clerkship for Chief Justice [John] Roberts [Jr.] to travel and visit friends and family. So I haven’t had a strong desire to take a week-long vacation, even though I’m sure I could. Instead, I’ve been choosing to take long weekends, from Wednesday through Sunday. I usually give a two-week notice before taking vacation time. However, this past spring, I took off at the spur of the moment following a trial victory. I went to Atlanta to visit my sister and watched March Madness all weekend. Sixth-year associate (33): I think vacations are important for lots of reasons. My husband and I make a point of traveling every two or three months, and when we are returning home, we plan the next vacation. The people I’ve had the opportunity to work with, they’ve consistently honored my plans. Sixth-year associate (38): We get four weeks at my level, and I do take all four. I take two one-week vacations and then the rest are three- and four-day weekends. The only thing — and this is partly because of the unpredictability of regulatory work — [is] you don’t always know what the deadlines are. So I don’t plan a vacation long-term. I say, maybe I’ll take some time off in December, and if all works well, I’ll take a week off. If that’s not working well, I’ll take it in January. I mostly do road trips anyway, and they’re easy to put together. Not tons of people want to go to Idaho or Montana, and I typically go in the off season, too. So when you get an unanticipated slow period, you can take that off. Second-year associate (50): I only took one week this year because I didn’t want to be away. The need for a vacation is meaningless — I don’t need the renewal. Maybe a few years down the line. Second-year associate (30): I got married last year and took a honeymoon, and I just told everyone about a month in advance, and that worked out fine. I have not taken another vacation since then, except for long weekends. Next year, I’ll probably do a vacation in August. Kaplan: I take all of my vacation, four weeks. I do litigation so I do have a sense of the case calendar, and I usually pick a time most convenient based on the schedule I know. And I ask the people I work with. Inevitably, it’s never a great time [to take a vacation], but I go anyway and it works out. There have been times when I’ve either had to work a lot up until the day I leave, or work one or two days on vacation. Do you try to avoid working certain times, such as weekends or evenings? Davis: I’ve been pretty fortunate — I haven’t had to work too many weekends. I say that, though, after working all this past weekend. Stanco: I’m flexible in the sense that I try to make time for myself. Some weeks, the work just dictates your schedule. I try my best to get in early and salvage the evening to go to the gym, go out with friends, or go out with my wife. Weekends I try to keep to myself, but some weeks it just sort of happens. O’Connell: Yes. I lined up to buy Harry Potter at midnight the Friday night it was released and finished reading it Sunday, squeezing in a friend’s bridal shower on Saturday. Sixth-year (33): Because of my commute, I try to get downtown by 7:30 because I hate sitting in traffic. But I try to get some exercise before work, so I don’t usually start my days before 9. My hours depend on what’s on my plate — I tend to do whatever it takes to do what’s on my plate. Sometimes I leave at 5:30 or 6, and sometimes it’s later than that. And I do work weekends if necessary — it just depends on what else is going on. Sixth-year (38): I don’t like to work both days on the weekend, but I will come in on Saturday or Sunday if I need to. But I prefer working late. So I have no qualms about staying well into the night if necessary. Second-year (50): I’ve been fortunate that some of the partners I work for try to do their work during the week and try never to take things home for the weekend. The other thing I’ve found, probably because I’m older — I just turned 50 — is that I’ve sort of got the idea down for time management. I look for projects that I can do at home so that if I want to balance time with the family, I can do that. Second-year (30): I do try to avoid working on weekends, but sometimes that’s not possible. I’m more of an early morning person than an evening person. I do try to get out at a reasonable time, and haven’t been too unsuccessful at that. I’m usually out of here between 7 and 8, and that works out well. Kaplan: I don’t have any hard and fast rules. But when I was a more junior associate, I didn’t care as much about working on weekends. Now I try not to work on weekends, and I do not come into the firm on weekends. I do what I can from home. At this stage, I’d rather put in another hour or two during the week and have those two days for a weekend break. That may be a little harder to do when you’re more junior.

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