1. Find a job you love
LexisNexis, which pioneered online information with the Lexis, Nexis, and Quicklaw research services, has the world’s largest electronic database of legal filings and public records. Managing and protecting it all is a weighty task that partially falls to the company’s chief privacy officer, Julie Chapman, who is also senior legal counsel for the Canadian arm of the organization. Reporting to the legal director at LexisNexis International, Chapman is responsible for providing advice on everything from corporate transactions to employment law. It’s a responsibility she welcomes, though, given her passion for law. “I was going to school to get my undergraduate business degree, and there was an option to minor in business law,” she says. “I found the law interesting and decided to pursue it as a career.”
2. Understand what you’re getting into
Chapman didn’t personally know any lawyers when she decided to pursue a legal career, so she was initially shocked to realize what was involved. “As soon as I started law school, the competition began to get jobs because if you don’t get a summer position after the first year, you’re scrambling to get an articling position after your second or even third year,” she says. “And it’s all based on marks, so the pressure to get established at an early stage was tremendous.” When Chapman began visiting law firms in pursuit of a job, she realized the workload wouldn’t get any lighter. “Being exposed primarily to large private practices, it was evident immediately the dedication and time commitment involved,” she says.
3. Consider your options
Achieving work-life balance in such an environment, Chapman says, depends on the firm you choose. Some big firms in Canada have a reputation for long hours that make it difficult to have a successful career and a family, but Chapman’s experience at Toronto-based Gardiner Roberts LLP was different. “They were more reasonable,” she says, but she also notes that she didn’t have children at the time.
Even at such a comfortable firm, though, Chapman was drawn to the idea of going in-house because it would allow her to get to know the business of one client. “At a large law practice,” she says, “I had many clients pulling me in different directions, and it was hard to get to know any one client’s business.”
4. Find a position that doesn’t eat up your life
At LexisNexis, you don’t see a lot of e-mails going back and forth on weekends. “Recently, my global CEO told me that unless there’s a real emergency, he never sends e-mails on weekends because he’s realized it will send the employees receiving them into a panic,” Chapman says. However, while she thinks it’s important to find a company such as LexisNexis that supports work-life balance, Chapman also sees workload as a matter of position. “I’m a one-man shop in terms of Canadian legal counsel,” she says, “so I don’t have anyone to manage, and that makes it easier to have a flexible schedule.”
5. Understand your role
“It’s easy to get caught up in trying to give the perfect answer or saying no because the risk is too great,” says Chapman of her decision-making power. However, she also notes that it’s important to not be too picky and to have thick skin. “When a client calls you, it’s your job to give advice, but the client can choose whether to take it or not,” she says. Keeping all this in mind can make all the difference.
6. Decide how to manage your responsibilities
Despite the move in-house with a company that respects work-life balance, Chapman still found that the balance became harder after she had children—a daughter and a son, now ages four and one, respectively. “I never had the guilt factor before,” she says. “My life outside of work was all about spending time with my husband and doing other activates I enjoy, like long-distance running and writing.” What has made the job workable, she says, is flexibility. “The fact that I’m a member of a global legal team, combined with advances in technology, allows me to communicate by phone or e-mail regardless of where I am, so I won’t have to walk in the office at 8:00 a.m. and leave at 6:00 at night,” she says. “I take my kids to school and put my kids to bed at night and work afterwards. As long as I’m responsive, available for meetings when I need to be, and get my work done, it’s OK.”