All-nighters, suits and large pay checks – the first things that spring to mind for many when imagining life as a lawyer.
But working as a solicitor in Ireland can be varied, especially during the pandemic when offices emptied and workers swapped suit trousers for pyjama bottoms.
We spoke to a senior associate at one of Ireland’s largest law firms, William Fry, to find out the reality. Here, Helena Ryan – who works as a solicitor by day and organises a major Irish festival by night – takes us through a day in her life.
Is working in law true to the glossy TV shows?
It can “depend on the area that you're in,” says Ryan, who is a senior associate in the commercial real estate department.
“The corporate department can be very much like what you would see on TV, big corporate business deals, whereas real estate probably moves a little slower, depending on the transaction," she says.
“Your all-nighters, you would still hear about in the corporate department, but they're a bit more rare [in] the real estate team.”
What does a typical day look like?
“Generally, I wake up at about 7am and the first thing I try to do every morning is to do a 10-minute meditation, so I’d use the Calm app and do a 10-minute meditation to start the day.
“Then our three-year-old wakes up at around a quarter past seven, so he'll come into us. We'll have breakfast - myself, my husband and our three-year-old.
“I generally sit down to work for William Fry at around 8am - my husband then drops our three-year-old into creche.
“I work from home around three days a week at the moment and two days in the office. So if I'm at home, I'll sit down at 8am and commence going through emails, stuff that's come in overnight, might have a call scheduled for that morning, could have a completion… to buy a property or to complete the sale of a property.
“Then at around 12 o'clock I try and do a workout. Something short, [a] 20 or 30-minute workout with a little bit of yoga at the end. I like the Sculpt Society, I find her to be a great trainer... so I’d put on one of her workouts and do that between 12pm and 12.20pm or 12.30pm.
“I'd have my lunch and then for the afternoon it's back to William Fry work again – calls, emails, letters, that kind of stuff.
“You might have something that comes up in a title deed, or a particular way a transaction is going to run, [and] you would have to consult [legal] text to see what the law says.
“I’d work very close with the head of real estate on transactions… there'd be loads of calls between us… we could have calls with solicitors on the other side to run through amendments in an agreement, so it is pretty interactive.
“Then at the same time, I would have smaller deals that I’d be running myself.
“At around 5pm I pick up my son from his creche which is around 15 minutes from the house, which is really handy. I bring him home and entertain him for a little bit while I cook dinner.
“We'd have dinner at around 5.30pm, and then my son goes to bed around 7pm.”
Is the job a typical 9am to 5pm, or are there late nights?
“Law is a demanding career, and real estate can be very demanding as well,” Ryan says.
“So sometimes if I am on a big transaction, it just does require that additional input in the evenings. But obviously then if you do that, it helps you at the next stage, stops the work building up, so actually I don't mind managing it that way.
“But I am lucky as I am able to spend time with my son in the evenings before he goes to bed, so I do have that crucial time, and weekends are generally free which is great.”
Then it is on to Ryan’s second occupation – organising one of Europe's largest outdoor health, fitness and wellness festivals taking place on May 7th and 8th in Dublin.
Ryan is one of the four co-founders of WellFest, which has grown from an event with 1,500 attendees in 2015 to 10,000 during its latest instalment in 2019.
“In the evening, a couple of times or once a week we'd have a WellFest call to run through the festival and anything that we need to discuss for the upcoming events,” she says.
“We always put them in the calendar for about half an hour but they always run on. We generally chit-chat, the usual, for a few minutes and catch up on news and stuff before we get into the nitty gritty.
“We could have a call to run through the timetable, a call for which presenters we’ll have at the event, or a call to update on sponsorship.
“For the first couple of years the four co-founders, we just ran it ourselves, which was absolutely crazy because we all had full-time jobs. We didn't have any kids at the time so it was a bit easier, but there was lots of early mornings and late nights and weekend work to bring it all together.”
Due to have her second child the day after the festival concludes this year, Ryan says it looks unlikely she will be attending – “unless I have the baby early, in which case I might try and pop down for an hour or something.”
Outside of work and festival organising – what about time to yourself?
“If I'm not doing WellFest or William Fry stuff… then I'll do something in the evening,” Ryan says.
“Tonight I’ve prenatal yoga on a Zoom class, or [other nights I] watch TV – I was watching Drive to Survive, their new series, which was really good… or [other nights I] go out and meet the girls for dinner.”