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Dear Aunty & Uncle: My son wants to be a lawyer. But is the work too stressful and without career prospects?

Burn out, inevitable?
Burn out, inevitable?
Legally India’s resident agony aunt and uncle answer a concerned mother’s queries about whether her son’s potential career choice of law is a good one, or whether it would leave him a broken shell of a man after a few years.

Dear Aunty,

My son is now on the verge of choosing a career and law is one of them. I went through many websites - both Indian and foreign - and learnt from young law firm lawyers’ discussions that in these firms there is no work life balance: lawyers have to work for insane hours and are overloaded with work. My questions are:

1. Are working conditions in firms stressful, negative and require very long hours? This is my top-most concern.

2. After spending five or six years in a firm or becoming a senior associate is it easy to get promotions? As in India most of the firms are owned by families.

Please give me your honest advice, as my son has to make a life-long career choice, and I would value your opinion.

Aunty responds:

Dear Concerned Mother, I can empathise, having kids of my own, though of course they all work with me in my firm.

I don’t hear them complain much but, honestly, thinking back to how things used to be when I first started out in the career, the new generation work harder than we ever did.

It’s simply what’s expected nowadays in the brave new business world of India.

Most bigger law firms that pay upwards of Rs 10 lakh per year to freshers, require their charges to work at least 10 hours a day, many on Saturdays, and attendance is even expected on quite a few holidays too, should the client or firm needs require it. So much for a happy Diwali when you’re dealing with a client in New York.

While I hate to admit it, some associates can end up working to clients’ or partners’ unrealistic deadlines, which means that time management can be out of their own hands.

And because nearly all firms prize quality, most foster a sense of healthy competition amongst associates, meaning associates end up fighting others to remain on the steep pyramid.

Making it to partnership is rather tough and unlikely for most, except the best. But it’s a meritocracy - at my firm, everyone will agree that my children have it twice as hard as any other associate to climb to the top.

That said, if your son doesn’t make it at the top, there are good career opportunities at companies as in-house counsel, or at mid- or lower-tier or - God forbid! – start-up law firms, who will be happy to take senior associates who can’t make the cut at the top firms.

At the end of the day you have to ask yourself this: do you think your son is tough enough for the cut and thrust of this kind of life? Or, preferably, why don’t you ask your son how he feels?

Uncle says:

Have no illusions, law firms (and the courts) chew up and spit out more youngsters than any other profession. As they should.

Law is a noble and intellectually challenging profession and clients’ demands are high, especially in the current economy. If you’re not good enough to rise to the top, you should get out – and most law firm partnership structures ensure just that.

Sure, if you want to come up at my firm, my children have an advantage but that’s entirely because I’ve trained them from a tender age in court craft and sharpened their legal minds like a seasoned court clerk’s pencil.

If your son is good enough to compete, bring him on and we’ll treat him right. But don’t expect him to get an easy ride or to be able to offer him any help beyond his daily dabba.

When I came up in the profession, I worked myself to the bone until I got to where I am, and so should the molly-coddled kids who think they’re the next Harish Specter or whoever it is they look up to these days.


Do you agree with Aunty and Uncle?

What do you think? Please leave a comment below.

In the meantime, Careers Counsel’s Agony Aunty and Uncle are here to answer your legal career questions. Please email your queries anonymously to or or click here.

Photo by Sean MacEntee

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