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Let’s face it – being a junior lawyer is no easy feat. After all, you must learn the law (and get better at it), adapt to the different working styles of your bosses and try to stay sane working through what can be very long hours at times. Not to mention the business development and mentoring you are expected to do (and do more of) as you rise in seniority.

To help you become a more effective and happier junior lawyer as you juggle the various demands (and possibly more) of being a lawyer, I share my top tips in setting boundaries and managing client expectations below.

What makes setting boundaries and managing client expectations so difficult?

Let’s assume you are a junior lawyer, ambitious, eager to prove yourself and up for anything that makes you a better lawyer. Setting boundaries is difficult because you may not know what your boundaries are and this in turn may affect the boundaries your boss, colleagues and clients have. Even if you know your boundaries, you may be uncertain as to how far you are willing to stretch the boundaries in the hopes that you will gain more experience and appear more dynamic/hard working. You might also be wondering whether pushing the boundaries is just a temporary compromise.

Managing client expectations can be even more difficult because it is often your boss who has the direct client relationship and has the most control in managing client expectations. Even if you have client contact, it takes time to learn the client’s temperament and expectations.

Top tips

1. Figure out your boundaries ASAP

Think about what’s important in your life, the essential commitments you don’t want to miss and the absolute non-negotiables (whether it is having dinner with family, going to the gym or something else). Ask your team members/boss what boundaries they set and what they know about the client’s expectations as it may help guide you. While your boundaries may change over time, make sure you have considered what is best for your wellbeing.

2. Stick to your boundaries and try to find win-win solutions

What you walk past becomes what you accept. The more often you break your own boundaries, the harder it will be to keep them. Once you have laid down some guardrails, make sure you stick to them as often as you can and communicate these proactively to your boss and colleagues. Make time to have conversations with your boss as it is about trying to find win-win solutions and having candid conversations. For example, you might time your gym sessions with your boss’s regular personal commitments, or you might work longer on weekdays to keep your weekends free.

3. Always build in buffer time and communicate often

To assist your boss in managing client expectations (for example, you may be asked to estimate how long it will take for you to do a task), make sure you build in buffer time, including any time needed for your boss to review your work. If there are unexpected things that pops up that may lead to a delay, communicate often and proactively so new timelines can be proposed and additional resourcing allocated.

Closing thoughts

Setting boundaries and managing client expectations can be some of the most difficult conversations you can have professionally. What constitutes the right boundaries/balance will be different for everyone. Consider preparing key talking points beforehand to enable you to have the opportunity to consider the perspectives of your boss and clients, it can help calm your nerves and ensure that you don’t miss any of your key points to facilitate a more productive discussion. I wish you success in figuring out your boundaries and managing client expectations – you will get better each time you try and you can do it!

#All views expressed in this article are the author’s own.

Mei Gong is a competition and consumer law lawyer. Mei holds a Bachelor of Laws (Hons)/Bachelor of Science (majoring in Chemistry) from the University of New South Wales.