Generally, when in-house lawyers transition from a law firm to a company, the amount they work decreases, with some exceptions. The particular number of hours depends upon the company and the industry, but it’s usually about 9-5 or 9-6, and increases as you gain seniority. (Unless you come from money and you’re “employed” in the family business, in which case you haven’t worked a day in your life, and never will.)
Often flexible arrangements are available, such as shifting working hours to 7-4 or 10-6, or working from home one or more days a week. These flex-time arrangements are particularly useful to lawyers who have many other obligations outside of work, such as learning new pole-dancing routines.
What about facetime — do in-house lawyers deal with facetime issues? By “facetime,” I mean simply the amount of time spent in the office, whether that time is used to do work or not. In-house lawyers certainly do encounter facetime issues — let’s face it, all lawyers do. (Get it…?)
Why do people care about facetime? Frankly, it’s a shortcut for determining how hard someone works. The assumption is that if you’re in the office, you’re working, and if you’re not in the office, you’re slacking. But of course, this shortcut fails to account for some other considerations.
First, it doesn’t provide any information about the quality of the time spent in the office. Maybe you spend a lot of time chatting with people, taking numerous breaks, and having long lunches with whoever will eat with you. You still get all your work done on time, so it’s not like you’re a bad worker. It just means that you have no social life outside of the office. Or, on the other hand, you may be working nonstop until 10 p.m. every night, shaking your fist at The Man.
Second, facetime doesn’t take into account any of the work done outside of the office. Some lawyers leave work earlier than others — for example, to spend some quality time with their kids before bedtime — and then get in a couple of hours of work later in the evening. They worry that they’re viewed as having a lesser work ethic than people who’d rather finish up their work at the office than go home early to their surly teenagers.
Companies will tell you that so long as you’re generally available during core work hours, it doesn’t matter where or when you do your work, so long as you get it done in a timely manner. In practice though, this doesn’t feel like it always works out. For example, take those crazies who get in early when the rest of the office is just hitting their snooze button for the eleventeenth time — you know, the ones who get the coveted parking spots that are practically inside their office. These rise and shiners often feel kind of screwed on facetime because others don’t remember that they’ve come in early; instead, the early-birds get invited to “late” meetings at 4:40pm, when they’re expecting to be cruising on home.
The other complication is that senior managers generally work more hours in the office than their reports. So at every level, you’ll see more senior people who are working longer hours than you which makes you: (1) feel kind of bad for them; (2) wonder if that’s what they expect of you, too; and (3) wonder if, even if not #2, that’s what it takes to get that promotion you’ve been patiently waiting thirty years for.
To maintain morale and keep facetime expectations in check, let’s consider what employees want when it comes to the hours worked and the volume of work handled:
- We want to get credit for the work that we do, regardless of where we do it.
- We want a fair workload — generally no more or less than anyone else.
- We appreciate the flexibility to do our work outside of the office.
- We generally want everyone to mind their own business and not second-guess our productivity.
Some recommendations? Lawyers should give their managers a good idea of what their workloads are. If you take boxes of work home every night and don’t tell anyone because you don’t want to complain or you think you’re being nice, there’s just no way for anyone to know. Duh. Be nice to yourself and share your misery with others. With the workload information that their reports provide, managers should actively try to keep workloads balanced and fair. And we should all try to remind ourselves and others to give everyone the benefit of the doubt and mind our own business. You never know who may decide they like us enough to show us some good pole-dancing moves.
Susan Moon is an in-house attorney at a travel and hospitality company. Her opinions are her own and not those of her company. Also, the experiences Susan shares may include others’ experiences (many in-house friends insist on offering ideas for the blog). You can reach her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @SusanMoon.