There’s a dirty little secret in the legal industry that almost all lawyers feel but rarely discuss.
The secret is this – most lawyers feel overworked and underpaid no matter how much they make.
Usually, people understand why public defenders and government attorneys feel that way. Reports about their enormously large caseloads and inadequate pay are always in the news. But it’s probably a bit surprising to learn that big law associates making 6 figures feel that way too.
Despite the differences in their compensation, what these two attorney groups share are the conditions that lead one to feel overworked and undervalued.
As I noted in a previous post, those conditions are:
If this sounds like your situation at work, here’s a plan to help.
Though lawyers are used to billing clients in increments of an hour, most never track how much of their day they spend working outside of billable time. When you add that non-billed time to those billable hours, the amount of time spent working can be quite surprising.
That’s why tracking your time is the first step to addressing the issue of feeling undervalued at work. The practice will either validate those feelings or help you realize that something else is at play.
Now that you have an accurate picture of your schedule, it’s time to reclaim some time for yourself.
I know law firm culture makes it seem like there is no way for you to make space for yourself. However, I also know there are associates, partners, and others who find time for weekly exercise routines, golf outings, and anything else.
If they can do it, you can too.
It just requires that you claim that time without guilt or judgment. Incrementally start to reclaim your schedule by creating a non-negotiable stop time for work a couple of days a week. You’ll be surprised at how much more you can accomplish in less time if you create space in your calendar for things that you enjoy outside of work.
If you feel undervalued, asking for a raise to a salary aligned with the value you bring to your workplace can go a long way in assuaging those feelings. Often there is fear associated with asking for money, but there are resources to help. You can start with this article that outlines specifics steps to help lawyers ask for more money, and this post outlining how to negotiate.
If you feel overworked, chances are some of your coworkers feel that way too. This opens up an opportunity for you to ask for support. Talk to your coworkers. Express your concerns with people you can trust, and begin the process of building a coalition around changing the overworked culture in your workplace.
It’s well known that pay disparities persist for women and minorities in all workforce sectors. The legal industry is no different, and those inequities can also lead to a feeling of being undervalued.
To empower yourself, consider using your efforts to fight for pay equity at a community level by volunteering your time and resources to a nonprofit. Some great organizations leading the fight to end pay disparity are National Women’s Law Center – Equal Pay Project, the National Committee on Pay Equity, and the Advancement Project.