What it’s really like to be a first-year lawyer in the Philippines

Brewer’s Kitchen

This morning a friend of mine sent a throw-back photo of us having dinner at some restaurant in Greenbelt. There we were, three single gals just fresh out of law school and from taking the bar, gabbing (bitching?) about our work lives as first-year lawyers /junior associates.

Ah, the memories just came rushing back—all the sleepless nights staying late at the office, 16+ hour workdays (now I cannot fathom how/ where I found the life force to sustain those long hours with little sleep, day in and day out) and weekends spent working at the office (I could stay home but I needed the research software at my office computer).

I remember never fully enjoying my time away from the office, such as when I’m on vacation, as this was more often than not, interrupted by office-related phone calls from my secretary / boss/ colleague and urgent emails from clients which need to be responded to ASAP, lest we lose the client. Sad to say, I missed a lot of family / friends’ important life events. I barely had time to keep in touch with them.  Sure,  you go out clubbing Friday nights but dread the arrival of Monday.   Work came first for me at all instances, before my then-boyfriend, before family. When duty calls, I bail on what I’m doing to attend to it. What joy it was to be a first-year lawyer!


Huge responsibility

It’s amazing how much responsibility is expected of a first-year. Being a first-year, you’re immediately given work on the first day and expected to finish on the same day. It’s really a sink-or-swim situation. You will be responsible for handling certain clients (with a team of course but you’re gonna be originating everything i.e. doing the groundwork). You will be responsible for your casefiles. I used to bring my files home with me so I could work from home on weekends.

You will be responsible for all your interactions with the client. So if you’re speaking to the President of X,Y,Z corporation, whether by email, call or text, make sure to be professional (or the most professional a 20-something could be! Haha). Also, what you see/ hear about clients is confidential – attorney-client privilege. But yeah, a lot is expected of a first-year.

I had a client (President of Corp) once who tried to pressure (yell at) me to accede to his request, which for valid grounds, I could not. I stood my ground and my boss stood by me. As counsel I learned that we do not have to bow down to whatever frivolity our client wants (whatever high position he/ she may hold) as it is our job to advise them on its Il/legality. The client should take the advice , which they pay us quite expensively for anyway.


When I sleep I dream of work

Why the heavy workload? A law firm structure is usually top heavy (many partners(bosses) but few senior and junior associates. Junior associates originate most of the work while the bosses mostly just review it. The partners’ job is client-generation. Associates do the leg work (interview clients, research, writing etc, meetings).

In other words, what you have is a combination of lots of bosses, many clients / cases, but few people to do the legwork. One associate may handle 60+ clients (doing corporate and litigation work at the same time), which may translate to the same amount of active litigation cases (yikes!) As a result, the work adds up, the pressure builds, especially when you’re still a first-year who’s still learning the ropes so that may affect your speed. Combine this with a difficult client, plus difficult /numerous bosses to please. There were too many a time that even when I slept, I dreamt I was working! It really was a stressful time and I cannot imagine how other lawyers stay, working at law firms for most of their lives. Note that many law firm lawyers drink. A LOT.  Hehe.

As for the dailies, it was quite difficult to get used to listing EVERY little thing I did and the time it took to do it. Examine case file, 30 minutes, phone call with client 5 minutes, thinking about case while in the cab, 20 minutes, hearing, 1 hour, etc. As lawyers we generally get paid by the hour so those billable hours add up. I say generally because first-years mostly just get a portion of those billable hours, the percentage depends on your profit-sharing agreement with your firm (ours was 15% of billable hours billed and collected from client). This is on top of your basic monthly salary / allowances. The minutes add up to hours so that’s why they say in a law firm sky’s the limit when it comes to your pay. As a caveat though I am speaking from the perspective of Makati-law firm first-year.


Was it worth it?

It’s been six years since I got out of law school and almost five years in law practice. How time flies! Undeniably, my time as a first-year was the building block of my current skill-set as a lawyer. It felt like an intense training period where I saw + learned a lot. My time as first-year was definitely worth it! Painfully stressful but worth it!

How was your first-year experience?




5 thoughts on “What it’s really like to be a first-year lawyer in the Philippines

  1. Hi I’m still in my last year of college. I want to be a lawyer someday. I’ve been searching a lot of blogs in the internet about being a lawyer here in the Philippines. I’m glad that I found your blogsite. I’ll be reading a lot here every now and then. Keep blogging.


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