Being a Lawyer Doesn’t Mean Long Hours

When you got a J.D. and passed the bar and became a special unique snowflake, you also joined a profession notorious for long hours. How else are you going to render excellent client service while paying off those student loans, not to mention get rich?

But if Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, can leave the office by 5:30 pm most days, why can’t lawyers get a handle on their work hours?

Home for Dinner with the Kids

Freedom from Want

Jessica Stillman, writing for Inc. Magazine, quotes Sandberg:

I walk out of this office every day at 5:30 so I’m home for dinner with my kids at 6:00, and interestingly, I’ve been doing that since I had kids. I did that when I was at Google, I did that here, and I would say it’s not until the last year, two years, that I’m brave enough to talk about it publicly. Now I certainly wouldn’t lie, but I wasn’t running around giving speeches on it.

It’s hard to believe that too many lawyers outside of BigLaw are chained to their desks, busier than Sandberg. (And she’s on the so-called “mommy track,” to boot, leaving her vulnerable to criticism from male counterparts.). But they are. Productivity is part of the equation for some, but there other factors at play, too.

Full disclosure: I’ve never been a full-time lawyer with a full caseload or full time lawyer work hours, but I do work for a living, and know the difference between a day spent procrastinating messing around on the Internet and a day spent being productive.

So maybe I’m full of it. But I don’t think so.

If you’re struggling with figuring out the right work-life balance for you, visit our portal to learn more about how to create a lawyer lifestyle that best fits you.

Originally published 2013.02.11. Last updated 2019.03.18


  1. I’m a “full-time” lawyer and most days I leave my office at 4:30 PM. I am not chained down to my desk an can easily access work from home should I need to. That’s fine.

    What is important to me is exactly what is important to Sheryl Sandberg. Being home for dinner with my family is priceless to me. My son is 17 months and goes to sleep somewhere between 6:30 and 7:00 PM. I refuse to be a weekend Dad and I feel great about it.

  2. Avatar Randall R. says:

    One, it depends on what type of law you practice. Litigation tends to have rather unforgiving deadlines. I have heard that transactional attorneys have more control over the daily schedule for that reason.

    Two, I leave everyday between 5:00-5:30 so I can be home with my family. But I also usually work 1-2 hours after the kids go to bed.

    • Avatar Barnett H. says:

      Ha!. Litigators have the benefit of a docket. Transactionaly lawyers are subject to the 5:00 pm whims of their client. Not saying litigators don’t work long hours or have stressfull times; they do!. But I have NO control over my day. Not bragging. Hate it.

  3. Avatar Matt Haiduk says:

    I’m out of the office by 5:30 most days. Of course, I’m working from home after that and doing work on nearly every weekend. To compare what we do with the COO of Facebook is a tad fool-hearty, though.

    Is she having to snag new clients? Is she needing to talk to clients about emergency matters in the evening? Is she going to court all day and unable to meet clients, talk on the phone, or draft email during the “prime” work hours?

    Does she have tens-of-thousands of competitors who are willing to work long-and-hard into the night trying to sign up the same new clients? I’m guessing not.

    “Full disclosure: I’ve never been a full-time lawyer with a full caseload…” Give it a try sometime before suggesting that some other person in some completely different field is a good comparison for lawyers.

  4. Avatar Matt Haiduk says:

    Seriously? Terrible comparison.

    In my state there are about 80,000 licensed attorneys. If I’m not answering the phone on new client calls from about the time I wake up until the time I go to bed, somebody else is. Same with weekends.

    Is the facebook lady dealing with that sort of competition to put gas in her car?

  5. BigLaw manages their world differently than I do, but they also have a history of PAYING more too. There are trade offs, and when job searching, you need to be a realist and look for employment doing what you think you might actually be good at, and at a pay rate that you can handle.

    I am a solo, and the reality is that if I am not getting in billable time, I will not get paid. I have rent, an assistant, monthly bills, etc. I am (mostly) efficient with my time. I do not provide my cell phone number to clients, and if they cannot meet me during business hours, I don’t accept them as a new client. I set out in my retainer – if you call me at my non-business number, you will be billed for at least a .50 . I get in to work at 7:30 am, and most days, I am done by 5:00 pm. There are those exceptional weeks with trial prep, or emergency filings, but really, I work because I love what I do, but mostly, because I am contributing to the financial support of my family – without my family – work would be pointless.

  6. I hate to be a jerk, but it kind of does…

    Just to give you an example. Yesterday I had to cover three hearings which started at 9am. I made it back to my office around 4pm. After that, I had a speaking engagement that lasted until about 8:30pm. This meant I was literally out of the office the entire day. During that time, nothing gets done except the matter at hand.

    Today I need to catch up on all the stuff I missed, except I have a hearing and a deposition on Wednesday that will take up most of my day today preparing for. So this means no actual work (drafting pleadings, writing letters, etc.) will get done in that time.

    I spent the weekend drafting something that had to be filed on Monday, since I had to many court appearances last week it’s the only time I had a chance.

    In biglaw you can delegate work to a paralegal or an associate. Someone else finds the clients. As the owner of a small firm, you are responsible for every single aspect of the firm – bringing in clients, getting bills out, doing the legal work, selecting the phone system, getting toner for the printers – everything right down to restocking the toilet paper.

    I worked less hours at a law firm than I do at my own firm.

    • Sam Glover Sam G. says:

      I was thinking about this, too. Being a successful lawyer definitely means working your ass off. It doesn’t necessarily mean long hours — at least all the time. But it does mean you have to be willing to work into the evening when you have to. And you will have to. That’s what it means to be a professional.

  7. It used to be (back when I was a “young lawyer”) that you had to get in before the boss and leave after he left. In fact, I worked at one place where Saturday hours were more or less mandatory except during the summer. Why? Because the boss golfed in the summer. It wasn’t that we had more work in the winter or less in the summer, simply that he wasn’t there so why bother brown nosing if no one is there to show it to?

    These days, with technology etc., it is harder to keep up and easier. Harder because it is so easy to become deluged by emails, listserves, and clients who want you at all hours. Easier because you don’t have to “be at the office” while all this happens.

    While I may work fewer hours in the office now, I probably work more if I count answers to Avvo questions I answer in between periods of Blackhawks games, phone calls at 9 p.m., and blog posts written on Saturday.

    But the days of hours being equal to effort are mostly past. Then again, I’m my own boss, so if I fail to work, I don’t eat, my dog doesn’t eat, my wife gets mad, I can’t watch the Blackhawks because she takes away the tv privileges, and life just blows. So I keep my nose to the grindstone.

  8. Avatar Charles P. says:

    Sheryl Sandberg is no longer the lawyer, she’s a client who just so happens to have a J.D. If she has never called outside counsel at 4:45 on a Friday and asked for an answer by Monday, then maybe she has a right to speak. Maybe. But as a BigLaw lawyer, let me assure you that I have plenty of clients who don’t understand why we work so hard, but curioisly expect things by “first thing tomorrow morning.” I have no problem with that, this is a client service business and my priority is my client, but the reality is 9-5 doesn’t cut it in the service industry.

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