The unexpected free time of firm life

A month into my 2L summer job at a union-side labour law firm, I’m still adjusting to the hours. To colleagues from my former life as a financial reporter, they might seem onerous; to classmates at full-service Bay Street firms, they may be downright enviable. But working from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. a few days a week hasn’t been a big adjustment — during the school year, I’m often studying until much later. No, what is new is the free time, the Saturdays and Sundays unencumbered by textbooks, by whiteboard maps, by the knowledge of looming exams.

Sara Tatelman

A month into my 2L summer job at a union-side labour law firm, I’m still adjusting to the hours. To colleagues from my former life as a financial reporter, they might seem onerous; to classmates at full-service Bay Street firms, they may be downright enviable. But working from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. a few days a week hasn’t been a big adjustment — during the school year, I’m often studying until much later. No, what is new is the free time, the Saturdays and Sundays unencumbered by textbooks, by whiteboard maps, by the knowledge of looming exams.

Of course, this will likely change when the firm’s articling students depart, when more lawyers realize our group of five summer students is available to work and when timelines shrink to hours, not days. But for now, despite some late-ish nights, our weekends are our own. And so I am faced with the almost ridiculous question of what to do with so much leisure time.

My first instinct was to find some way to remain productive. When I worked as a reporter, I freelanced frantically on weekends to boost my relatively paltry income. I did so throughout 1L as well, in an attempt to keep my student debt as low as possible. But my summer salary is about double my pre-law salary, so despite looming 3L tuition, I’m content to work only the one job. There are non-employment ways to stay productive, but French classes, for instance, would require brain power I don’t wish to spend after a long week of legal research, writing and client interaction.

My other go-to activity for free time is passive internetting — scrolling through Instagram on my phone while half-watching Netflix until I’m screen-sick. But what a waste of a free weekend. So my goal is to figure out how to enjoy these two days off, how to balance sufficient activity with real, screen-less downtime while also making room for grocery shopping, vacuuming and the other necessities of adulthood.

My main takeaway so far is to not over-plan. On the Sunday after my first week at the firm, I started the day with my Latin translation group. Then I biked across town in the rain to pick up a last-minute birthday gift, internetted the afternoon away while avoiding wrapping said gift, met my parents for dinner and then rushed off to a Game of Thrones screening party. It was exhausting, just in a different way from the workweek.

In contrast, I spent the Victoria Day long weekend in Collingwood, Ont., where my boyfriend’s parents live. I know nobody else there, consequently made no plans and revelled in the slow unspooling of the days. We ambled through a farmer’s market and spent hours reading on the sofa. I went for a run by the water and helped bake a pie. On the Saturday, I crowed triumphantly in several group chats, I took two naps: a late morning doze in the living room and, later, a proper lay-down in bed, waking up only to catch the 6 p.m. news. Paradoxically, I find naps have a magical quality of making the weekend stretch on and on. They handily divide the day into discrete chunks of time, and if your activities differ enough pre- and post-siesta, it can feel like you’ve had four days off.

From the moment you decide to write the LSATs, there’s always something you could be doing, whether that’s practising logic games or polishing cover letters. So, take advantage of all 36 — or even 48 — hours of sweet summer freedom each week.

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