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What Is the Best Law Field for Work-Life Balance? | Explore Law Firms and Legal Advice

Burnout is a widespread issue for lawyers, with nearly half of lawyers reporting experiencing burnout within the past six months, according to the latest Bloomberg Law survey. Additionally, 59% reported feeling unable to disconnect from work.

The legal industry is so focused on billable hours and the partner track that it can be difficult to feel like work-life balance is possible. Particularly for lawyers at the beginning of their careers, there is an expectation of working overtime and vying to work on big cases. Additionally, clients tend to expect their attorneys to be highly responsive regardless of the time or day.

“The reality of law practice is that it is a service business, and the expectation of clients is that their lawyers will be available if not 24/7, then most of the time,” says Diane Rosen, counsel at Herrick, Feinstein LLP and partner at workplace consultancy Compass Consultants. “As a practical matter, there are areas of law that have more flexibility, primarily those that have fewer deadlines imposed by third parties, such as judges.”

How Some Areas of Law Allow Better Balance

Not all areas of law are created equal. Some high-pressure areas will necessitate long hours with demanding clients, while others will afford more flexibility.

In-house counsel – an attorney employed directly by the company they represent – is typically one of the best areas for work-life balance. Regardless of the type of law you practice for your employer, you will typically work more traditional hours. If a large issue arises, often your employer will bring in outside counsel to support those issues.

Small law firms also often allow for better balance, particularly if they are operating in a smaller city.

If one of your top priorities is obtaining balance, think twice before pursuing a job in Big Law. Large companies employ these massive law firms and pay high premiums for the exacting work they perform. Working in Big Law will afford you little ability to set your hours or schedule.

Areas with a high likelihood of litigation also allow for little flexibility. In more litigious areas, judges and courts will often be the ones dictating your schedule.

“There are also mandatory deadlines for some types of filings,” Rosen says. “Litigation can have surprises, too, such as an unexpected application for immediate relief – like an injunction – that can put things into high gear without warning.”

Law Fields Most Likely to Provide Work-Life Balance

In the end, your interest in a field will likely dictate the type of law you end up practicing. However, if you’re looking for a direction that will help ensure you have a better work-life balance, these fields are excellent ones to take into consideration.

“These areas of practice provide a better work-life balance because they often provide predictable hours, regular schedules, a reasonable workload and a less stressful work environment,” says Paul Glover, executive coach and former trial attorney.

Ancillary Transactional Law

If you practice any kind of transactional law, such as private equity, banking and finance, you can bet that long hours and tight deadlines will be in your future. But not all transactional work has those same requirements.

The keys here are to be specialized and in demand on merger and acquisition deals. This includes areas such as tax, insurance and pension law. These types of lawyers are almost always needed on deals. However, since they’re strategically focused and concentrate on things ancillary to getting a deal done, these people work more predictable hours.

Intellectual Property (IP) Law

Practicing IP law means you will concentrate on securing and enforcing legal rights to products such as writing, inventions, designs and artwork. You will work predictable hours as you secure assets such as real estate and personal property.

While IP law might sometimes necessitate court appearances, you will mostly serve as an advisor who counsels clients about IP matters. The most common task in this field will be filing trademarks, copyrights and patents, as well as sending formal letters in cases IP is infringed.

Real Estate Law

This field demands knowing laws related to property and real estate law. Most of your work will be filling in forms with customer data and closing out contracts. Real estate law often offers a good work-life balance.

Trust and Estate Law

“Drafting a trust and handling the affairs of an estate are almost never matters that have the urgent time pressure that high stakes litigation or a merger might present,” says Frederick L. Shelton, chief executive officer of Shelton & Steele.

Estate attorneys evaluate what their clients want to accomplish concerning inheritance, foundations, endowments and more. In this field, you will create and draft the documents necessary to achieve those goals.

“This rarely requires staying in the office until late hours,” Shelton says. “When it comes to the affairs of an estate, this too is usually very easy to manage and rarely requires long hours.”

Take a Holistic Approach to Choosing Your Field

When determining the best field for you, it is important to remember that your interest in a subject matter will also play an important role in your quality of life. If you deplore real estate law and enjoy litigation, you might be happier in a more litigation-heavy field than real estate law.

It is also important to consider each firm’s culture. While there are typical frameworks for how firms are organized, each one will vary in terms of their expectations. Caseload and client interaction will also play important roles in your overall happiness.

Sarah Goldberg
Sarah Goldberg

Sarah is a seasoned financial market expert with a decade of experience. She's known for her analytical skills, attention to detail, and ability to communicate complex financial concepts. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Finance, is a licensed financial advisor, and enjoys reading and traveling in her free time.

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