Livehealthy is starting a new series called “My work”, where we delve into how people in the UAE deal with their job stress. We do this anonymously so people can be totally honest about their experiences without fear of reprisal. Pre-Covid, we spoke to a 41-year-old associate lawyer who works at an international law firm with offices in Dubai.
Time zones don’t mean anything to clients. They’ll call you anytime they want and expect a response. I get calls on Christmas Day, I’ve had to pull out of dinners at the last minute or cancel bigger things – and it happens quite frequently. My work does involve my personal life. I accept that one bleeds into the other – and I think that’s why it doesn’t affect me as such. Luckily my wife gets it, which is really important otherwise it would be too tough.
If anything keeps me up at night, it’s work itself, especially if I’m in the throes of a big deal. International firms operate at all hours so even if I come home at 8pm, I keep going. But stress or worrying about workload doesn’t keep me up at night. It doesn’t eat into every waking moment of my day. As soon as I’ve hung up the phone, it’s done.
But mental health issues in the law industry are rife and the brutal reputation it has is real. To be a lawyer at an international law firm, you’ve been whittled down over time through a lot of work and people get hardened by that but you’re also constantly second guessing yourself; you have to really have a level of self-confidence in how you work and think. It’s a really stressful process.
A typical day for me depends on what stage of a transaction I’m at. It involves meeting with clients, understanding what they want, drafting documents and mitigating risks. A decent portion of my day is also spent working with junior lawyers and paralegals, supervising and training them.
I’ve been on transactions for multi-billion dollar deals where somebody needs to get cash from another party to complete it and it’s not happening for whatever reason and you’ve got big personalities around a table with potentially government interest involved. It can turn into a pretty hostile situation where they disagree with you and it can be very intimidating. The key thing for me is knowing that if I’m doing my job, it’s not personal. If I wasn’t doing my job properly, that would be a problem. Ultimately I keep in mind that it is what it is: people with a lot of money on the line – and it actually works.
The hardest part for me is how to address human situations. Everyone is so different. People have this image of a lawyer of being pretty bookish and a stickler for details, but the reality is, it’s a cross-section of people that are so different. Knowing how to interact and make sure everyone is managing and happy is really tough.
I like my job a lot, I enjoy what I do but it doesn’t define me. I am not my work. It’s not everything. Being able to compartmentalise when you’re a lawyer is what will save you. Often work is seen as a personal problem, so therefore you never escape it because it becomes intertwined. I’m lucky I can keep the personal and the professional separate.
After a while the dam walls break and you can’t keep it up. I see how people struggle to put their best foot forward because the work is so incredibly detail-orientated and particular. The more senior you get, the more it becomes about running a business. It’s not just hovering over your clients and making sure they’re happy and meeting their requirements, it’s hiring, firing and working with HR and keeping your whole team happy. A lot of people at the top appear to have everything under control with a stiff upper lip, so junior lawyers have a false sense of reality. Top-tier lawyers should be more open to humanize the profession.
As told to Georgie Bradley
Georgie Bradley is a British/Greek editor and journalist based in Dubai after being bred in Bahrain. She's been published by The Guardian UK, The Telegraph UK, BuzzFeed, The Huffington Post UK, Buro 24/7 and Harper's Bazaar Arabia. Most recently she was the deputy editor of Emirates Woman. You're most likely to find her in the aisle seat.