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All talk this week has been focused on the SJ Berwin summer vacation student who was “asked” to work until the wee hours of the morning as an international arbitration reached its climax.
My initial reaction to the story, which we broke exclusively on Wednesday, was deep sympathy towards the student (read more). But as the reader comments came flooding in with several in favour of SJ Berwin I quickly came to the conclusion that the situation isn’t perhaps as clear-cut.
During my former career as a corporate lawyer I worked on several all-nighters and am therefore all too familiar with how 10pm turns into midnight and before you have time to come up for air it’s 3am. My guess therefore is that this was simply a case of all hands on deck with the summer student being treated like all other members of a deal team.
Working on an all-nighter is both physically and mentally draining but even I am happy to admit that a strange sense of excitement prevails as a major deal unfolds before your very eyes. Indeed, during my days as a junior lawyer pulling an all-nighter was something that many of us bragged about the next morning. These days, however, when reflecting on my 20s and thinking about the hours I put into my job I often question how I found the energy or indeed time to squeeze in anything other than work into my weekly routine.
SJ Berwin admitted that it was “wrong” to ask a student to work through the night. And many of my graduate recruitment contacts admitted they were shocked by what had happened.
However, as some of the comments suggest students cannot have it all. If you want to have a proper insight into what life as City lawyer is really like then you should seize every opportunity that is offered to you – even if it means working outside normal office hours. But if you want the sugar-coated version with trips to the theatre and virtual golf then ask yourself how serious you are about a career in the Square Mile?
Because take it from me - life as a commercial lawyer is not for the faint-hearted.