Top 10 tips for surviving the junior years in the legal industry

Five years out of university and well into her legal career, Jyoti Haikerwal shares her top 10 tips for surviving the junior years in the legal industry.

After feeling like I was unconsciously following the well-trodden path of high school, law school then corporate job, I am now trying to make active choices on how I want my professional career to look and making sure that I am creating a version of work/life balance that works for me, my personality and my priorities.

Now five years out of university and well into my legal career, these are 10 of the best tips I have picked up from people along my journey which I try to go back to and reflect on when planning my day, week or year ahead (not in any particular order):

1. Wellbeing

Yes – the buzz word since COVID-19 but the most important word and one that we should continue to have in our permanent vocabulary.

In my view, the first step of wellbeing is understanding that this means something different to everyone. To some, wellbeing is a facemask, bath and early night. To others, it is competing in an Ironman (yes – I have some crazy overachieving friends). It took me some time to work out what wellbeing was to me and what I need to do to properly fill up my cup and avoid burnout. Having been working on my wellbeing for the past few years, I have realised that it is achieved in very different ways. Sometimes, wellbeing for me is getting a task done that has been on my list for far longer than I want to admit, sometimes it means taking a mental health day when I have been working long hours, sometimes it is taking myself to a restaurant in the middle of the week and ordering a seafood pasta while at other times it is attempting to tap into my creative side by doing some watercolouring or by trying a dance class. Sometimes, it simply means finishing work at 5.00pm, walking home and not checking my emails (this is almost the hardest one).

I am no expert, but having had wellbeing-focussed conversations in both my personal and professional life, I have realised that there is no one size fits all. Facemasks and baths don’t work for me. But it might work for you, so my advice is to try different things until you realise what suits you and when you do, tell the people around you so they can support you to make time for it.

2. Life outside of work/hobbies

A typical interview question is what do you like to do outside of work? What are your interests and hobbies? For such a long time, I did not have a fun answer to this. My answer would be the usual reading (I have not read a book in two years), hiking and camping (I go glamping) and watching international films (if you count watching Nordic true crime series on the couch on Netflix). I always hated that question because it made me reflect on my interests outside of work and I realised that I perhaps was not as interesting as I thought.

I have some amazing friends who have some wicked hobbies including making wine, creating pottery and going salsa dancing. Trying to make some more purposeful choices, I decided to try and commit to a hobby, and I picked up watercolouring. I am not the best at it, but I really enjoy it. I have also mentioned it twice now in this short article so you can see that I am excited to talk about it. It has also very much become a third space for me and so when I do it, I immediately forget about the looming deadlines and the unanswered emails. Instead, I spend some time with myself doing something that makes me very happy and relaxed. I have found it helps to have a hobby you love and makes you feel that way because even when you are having a very stressful day at work and all your clients want something, it feels nice to be excited to go home and do something for you.

3. Capacity

Ah, this is a tricky one and one that I still struggle with. Learning what your capacity is and learning how to say no. To learn what your true capacity is, sometimes that might mean that you are pushed over your limit and that can be a very stressful and difficult experience. But if that happens, trust me, you will not let that happen again. I do not have too much more to say on this one because I am still trying to work it out myself but I do know that being honest with yourself and your colleagues about your workload (including mental workload, physical workload and personal workload) is a good place to start.

4. Know your priorities and make them known

The first step is working out what you want. What is important to you? If you are wanting to focus on work for the next little while because you are gunning for that promotion or pay rise, tell your family and friends that for the next few months, you might be working later than usual. If you have just joined your local frisbee team and they train at 6.00pm on Thursday nights, tell your employer so they know that you will not be available after 5.00pm on Thursdays. Do you have a scheduled date night with your partner every Tuesday night and are not contactable after 5.30pm? Tell your boss.

In my experience, and I know that not every workplace is like this, but by telling your colleagues and work about what is important to you, what you are focusing on and what your priorities are, they will become invested and help you achieve your goals. For example, in 2022, I decided to train for a half-marathon. My boss would ask me every week how my training was going, made sure I left whilst it was still light out to get my long run in, encouraged me to drink more water when I was glued to my desk and convinced that I did not have time to take the two minutes to walk to the kitchen and fill up my water bottle. She even came and cheered me on when I raced. During those three months of training, my priority was running, I made it known and I felt supported.

5. Volunteer and join committees that you want to be a part of

Let’s be honest, I have sat on committees and working groups for the sole purpose of bolstering my resume and to impress interviewers. However, I remember before each committee meeting, I was filled with dread for attending a meeting I had no interest in, nothing to contribute and I felt like I was taking advantage of an opportunity. So I said never again. I still wanted to sit on committees (and we all love a resume boost), but I wanted to be more intentional with how I volunteered my time. Since doing so, I am excited about committee meetings and I feel a lot more fulfilled.

For me, I do a lot of work in the medical litigation space and work with many families impacted by birth-related trauma. I found myself reading articles, discussing issues related to birthing practices and listening to podcasts about this area. I then decided to put my name down and volunteer for the Australasian Birth Trauma Association. Through this, I have met some wonderful people who I would have never met in my professional or working life and am able to contribute to the meaningful conversations during the meetings.

Another area I am passionate about is mentoring and bringing people together with shared interests. I work in a boutique personal injury law firm which I absolutely love and really enjoy my job but, as with every job, there are times where I just want to get through the day. Being in a boutique law firm environment, sometimes there is not the junior lawyers’ comradery as there is in the bigger firms. Missing this, I decided to reach out to some friends in other boutique personal injury law firms and we created a group where we meet over coffee to discuss cases, career progression and give each other advice. We also stay connected by messaging each other when we need a recommendation for an expert or a barrister. The goal is to continue growing this group so we can connect junior lawyers in personal injury boutique law firms across Victoria and build a support network.

I guess my point is, you do not need to sit on a law reform or advisory committee if that does not suit you. You can find a committee or an organisation that aligns with your interests and values and contribute in a way that works for you. Or, you can make one yourself!

6. Network

Yes, it is not our favourite pastime. Yes, we all have to do it. Now that we have established that, find your people. Networking does not mean needing to read up on the latest golf shots to have a conversation with someone who probably mispronounces your name. Networking means putting yourself out there in rooms of different people until you find others that you feel comfortable with and then build your network with them.

For anyone who practices in Victoria, the Victorian Women Lawyers is an amazing place to start your networking journey. It is a safe environment for absolutely everyone to be a part of and build your legal community. I have been part of the Victorian Women Lawyers since 2019 and haven’t regretted it for a minute. I have been a member, a committee member and have also led a committee and in each of these roles, I have met genuine people and grown my network.

7. Take the annual leave

You are not a hero if you have 100 hours of annual leave banked up and the last time you took a holiday was pre-COVID. In fact, you probably are burnt out, grumpy and had a night where you decided to delete all social media after seeing all of your friends enjoying Euro summer. That was me in August 2023 when I decided to work through winter and not take some time out to myself.

There are studies and research out there about whether people are happier after taking one big holiday per year or taking small mini breaks throughout the year. You can always use that as a guide to trial which works best for you. For me, having one two-week holiday and a few long weekends during a year is the perfect combination for now. I know it sometimes is stressful taking leave when there is a lot of work on, but your workplace should be supporting you and providing resources to help you take the leave that you are entitled to. If not, then they will probably be in for a shock when you resign and must pay your annual leave out. Just take the leave, take the break – you know you deserve it.

8. Mentors

Find them, keep them, keep in touch with them. Mentors do not need to be in your workplace and they do not even need to be in the law. They just need to be someone you trust and who will be your advocate when you are negative self-talking and the imposter syndrome bug starts to creep in. Do not underestimate the power of having someone in your corner. I know that I would not be where I am without the support and guidance of my mentors.

9. Be yourself

Working in the law is tiring, stressful and challenging enough. Let alone if you feel like you need to put on an act everyday when you get into the office such as feeling like you need to be extra and loud when really, you love to keep to yourself. Fitting in is something we all crave so if you feel like you are not being your true self, then perhaps the workplace you are in is not the best fit. Be yourself and trust your personality. I bet it is pretty awesome.

10. Marketing

I left this last because I often leave all my marketing tasks last (sorry to my beautiful marketing manager) but arguably, this is the most important one. If you are given an opportunity as junior lawyer to write an article (especially where your name will actually be published), to present at a conference, to attend a networking night, to attend a client lunch, do it. It will do wonders for your confidence, your brand and, if you put in the work now, the marketing will feel easier as you start to grow your practice.  Also, LinkedIn. I know, but it works.

The cliché that success looks different to everyone is a cliché because it is true. For me, success is doing excellent work that I am proud of, collaborating with my peers and opponents, learning something new every day and getting the best results for my clients. Success to me is also leaving work before dinner time, getting some exercise in during the week, watching my favourite TV show with my fiancé on a weeknight, being in bed before 10.30pm, speaking with my family and going out for drinks with friends on a Monday night.

This might not look like success to everyone but whatever your version of success is, prioritise that to make it happen – I promise people will support it.

This article first appeared in Precedent, the journal of the Australian Lawyers Alliance, issue 180, published in February 2024 (Sydney, Australia, ISSN 1449-7719). It has been reproduced with the kind permission of the author and the ALA. For more information about the ALA, please go to:

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