JLU: Junior Lawyers' Union

Asserting the rights of junior lawyers, who have much more power than they realise.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Faffing about Friday - Tea lady cuts sick and other outrage

Move over Junior Lawyers, tea ladies will be on the front line of the next revolution. Recently a Deacons tea lady, after spying a sink full of broken glass and toast crumbs, yelled at all all those in earshot "THIS IS DISGUSTING. I AM NOT HERE TO CLEAN THIS UP!" and walked off. And let it be known that there was no milk or biscuit replenishment for the rest of the day. Lawyers of the world take note, tea ladies are not to be messed with.

And yes, this is the best, non defamatory gossip, that I have been able to muster this week...

Oh and here's a youtube video from the Adelaide Uni Law Revue called "Snail in a bottle" , just in case you needed a torts refresher (hell, if that's not proof that we care, what is).

And another thing, as Kamahl would say, why are people so unkind?

"Re: Reminder : Computer Systems Unavailable - This Saturday Morning, 5th May 2007

I never knew IT people were so passionate as to suffer "outrage" when there`s an outage for maintenance!! And I guess the effect will be to affect both offices!!
[details omitted]

From: Help Desk
Sent: Friday, 4 May 2007 9:29 AM
To: Everyone DL
Subject: Reminder : Computer Systems Unavailable - This Saturday Morning, 5th May 2007
Importance: High
Due to some maintenance that needs to be performed, the computer systems will be unavailable this Saturday, the 5th May until 1pm.

The outrage will effect both the Melbourne and Sydney offices as well as remote access via webmail and citrix.

After 1pm the computers will be able to be used and remote access restored. If you need to access the computers this Saturday morning, please contact Help Desk to make alternative arrangements
Thank you.
Help Desk."

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The dating game

It's that time of year again, when the not-so-fresh-faced first year lawyers have to decide where they want to go rest of their lives.

This process reminds Tea Lady of the time she used to play dodg'em ball at school. All the grade 4 kids would line up in a row, against the toilet block wall, and we would be chosen one by one. I always dreaded this process of elimination, because I would inevitably be one of the last ones selected. Even Susie-Lee, with her scrawny legs and metallic braces, would be chosen before I was. Everyone wanted to be wanted, and no one wanted to be last. Similarly, every AC wants to be the number one draft pick.

The Tea Lady's advice to first years? Approach the whole experience as though it's an episode of *Perfect Match*. Flirt a little, be a bit coy, and never commit too early on.

Choosing a group is a lot like dating. We've all been guilty at one point or another of becoming interested in someone simply because they're quite keen on you. If you go to a group simply because they want you, their attitude towards you might quickly change once you're actually there. Similarly, it's also not recommended that you choose a group based on the people. With such a high turnover, chances are all the nice people will leave by the time the year's out.

And, just like in Perfect Match, you never quite know what's behind the corner. At least if you enjoy the work, you'll be ready for any nasty surprises.

Friday, April 27, 2007

This is WHY law firms need to do something about depression - Part II

Another story from an ex-practitioner which speaks for itself...

Hi, I am so glad I found your blog. I now know I am not the only one who has been chewed up & spat out by a law firm.

I spent two years in legal practice, after being 'head hunted' from my previous job. The first 18 months or so were fine - I exceeded my budget, enjoyed the work, and got along well with everyone.

One of the partners told my husband I was the best graduate they had recruited in years.

Then, it all started to go wrong. I suffered a sporting injury and had to have some time off work. This was right at the start of the financial year, so I started behind the eight-ball.

At first, the partners seemed understanding. After a while, however, it became clear that I was expected to make up the billable hours I had missed. I worked my backside off, and started to catch up. Then my supervising partner began to have some personal problems, and she took out her anger on everyone who worked for her. I became increasingly stressed and felt like I couldn't do anything right. I became very depressed and began to lose interest in my work. My billable hours dropped even further. I confided in another partner. He seemed to be sympathetic, and told me 'everyone knows' Partner X is a bully. He said if he had his way, he would sack her. Behind my back, however, he told a Workcover investigator that he didn't want anyone who was depressed working at his firm, and that everyone likes Partner X, and that I must have misunderstood him.

Eventually, I was 'counselled' a couple of times about my steadily decreasing billable hours. The managing partner told me he didn't think the targets were that hard to meet, and that they had made a lot of allowances for me. I started to envy people with 'simple' jobs like the checkout operators at the supermarket. A few weeks later, I made a mistake while nearly at breaking point, and they had the excuse they needed to sack me.

12 months later, and I am still on 3 different anti-depressants. I see a psychiatrist regularly and I have survived a suicide attempt. I still think about killing myself almost daily. I feel like a complete failure. On the bright side, however, I stood up for myself and put in a Workcover claim, which has recently settled in my favour. I have recently obtained another job which I really enjoy. The pay is crap, but there are no billable units, and I can go home at 4:30 every afternoon.

I just thought I would share this with you in case you needed another reminder of how widespread this problem is. I was only working in a mid-tier firm in a smaller city, so I can't imagine what it would be like to work in
a large Sydney firm.

Keep up the good work! That was a great idea to send the depression information kits to law firms. I can only hope that some of the information sinks in, and that others don't have to go through what I did.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Blue Letter Lawyers

We're yet to hear of any law firm that has taken steps to address depression in the workplace and we would love to draw attention to any firm trying to address this issue. The apparent inaction of firms is startling given the media's current focus on depression and substance abuse within the profession. We rely on our readership to be our eyes and ears so please fill us in if you know anything.

Thank you to Helen from Blue Letter Lawyers for writing this article about her experiences of living with depression and working within the law.


The story told by “Free at Last” struck a strong chord with me.

I am a lawyer who suffers from depression. The first firm I worked for was small and had a family feel, and so I was very open about my condition. Initially I had no qualms about my decision. The partners seemed sympathetic, and gave me paid time off during a couple of particularly bad bouts of depression. This seemed extraordinarily generous in comparison to the stories I had heard about the larger firms.

However, I soon realized that their tolerance only went so far. It became apparent during my final period of leave that, this time, I was expected to recover completely from my condition and ensure that it did not interrupt the workplace again.

Yet at the same time I realized that, more often than not, it was the behaviour of the partners themselves that was setting off or exacerbating my depressive episodes. I raised this with them, suggesting that a joint effort would be required. No such luck. After almost twelve months, with no sign that the partners would change their behaviour, I was forced to walk out, leaving behind a job that I otherwise greatly enjoyed.

I was brave or foolish enough to risk litigation in relation to my dismissal. Unfortunately, I was shocked again by the way in which the Equal Opportunity Commission of Victoria treated me in relation to my complaint. Without going into details, I can only say that my experience suggested that the Complaints Officers needed some serious training in dealing with depressed individuals.

I also sought assistance from the Law Institute, but there was very little they could do except refer me to a counsellor – and as I was already seeing a psychiatrist this was superfluous.

Law firms and lawyers are hopeless at dealing with depression. The perception is that a lawyer suffering from depression just needs to “buck up” and smell the roses. Unfortunately, many partners in law firms do not have a normal attitude to life. I have heard many stories of young lawyers trying in vain to explain to partners that they are depressed and lack motivation. This is met with total incomprehension, because the kind of person who “makes it” to partnership is the kind of person to whom career is everything.

A real commitment to work-life balance could alleviate the lack of morale felt by many young lawyers. But this alone is not enough. There should also be some recognition of the potentially destructive nature of legal work practices and culture. These observations are not targeted at any particular firm, but are based on a wide-ranging consideration of reasons why young lawyers of our acquaintance have left the law:

- Many senior lawyers have a total lack of management skills, because this is not the basis upon which lawyers get promoted to partnership, and therefore they have no idea how to manage junior staff;

- Office politics can have a soul-destroying impact on young lawyers when it is left unchecked. Why would any young lawyer wish to stay somewhere where those in command are fighting amongst each other?;

- When “support staff” are anything but supportive, this can impact very negatively on young lawyers (a good administrative assistant is worth his or her weight in gold);

- Many firms tolerate bullying, sexual harassment and discrimination as “natural”, and if you don’t like it, you’re some kind of “wuss” or “prude”; and

- Depression and lack of motivation is never discussed openly and if a person indicates that he or she is having problems, he or she must be “a lunatic” who is “not coping”.

No wonder depression is rampant amongst the legal community.

My experience made me realize that there was no support group for lawyers who were suffering from depression. What was more, I soon began to see that lawyers were a group who – more than any other – needed assistance and education in this area. This has been seen in many American studies, and is also displayed in a recent study conducted by beyond blue.

And so I created blue letter lawyers. Although at this stage it is little more than a name and a funky website (kudos to my sister and co-founder for the graphics), I am hopeful that it will become much more than this in due course.

The aim of the group is to promulgate information about depression in order to educate lawyers about the signs, impact and appropriate treatment for depression; to provide a space where lawyers can exchange their stories and tips for dealing with depression in the workplace; and to maybe even change the way in which the law itself deals with depression.

blue letter lawyers is therefore looking for people (or organizations) who are interested in helping us get our idea off the ground. Although we have passion in bucket loads, we also need the experience and know-how, or even just a couple of extra brains to get us really storming!

If you are interested in assisting, then please contact either myself (Helen) at helen@blueletterlawyers.org or my sister (Katy) at blueletterlawyers@yahoo.com.au.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

This is WHY law firms need to do something about depression...

We were worried that visitors to this website might not notice this post from an anonymous contributor named Free at Last so we have included it in its own post:

"When I finally walked out the door of the top tier firm that I worked for, I had no job to go. It was a leap into the great unknown - terrifying but ultimately liberating.

And, I don't regret it one bit. When I made the decision to leave the firm, I was taking 100mg of Zoloft a day and spent much of my office time wondering whether my desk chair was heavy enough to smash the window of my 18th floor office.

Prior to my departure, I disclosed my depression to the firm, thinking that since things had spiralled so far, perhaps, somewhere, there might be someone with a glimmer of humanity lurking around the firm who could help me out.

Instead, the firm demanded a medical certificate to confirm my depression. Once that was produced, two of the partners sat me down and advised me that I was being formally 'performance managed'. They told me that they expected me to get in earlier and leave later, be more 'enthusiastic' about the work I was being given and to increase my output. They then demanded that I say the words 'I want to be a commercial lawyer'. I kid you not.

Needless to say, a couple of days I tendered my resignation. The sad thing is that one of them seemed genuinely surprised by my decision.

Keep up your good work. I hope that even if it doesn't change the attitudes attitudes of those leading these firms, it will help more young lawyers out there to realise that they don't have to live their lives according to an ultimately corrupted and destructive moral code."

Friday, April 20, 2007

Faffing about Friday - Part 2

There have been moments during my brief legal career where I have felt inklings of guilt for billing multi-national clients $300.00 an hour for hole punching documents for days on end (suggested time entry - "conducting bi-perforation of key documents to further progress discovery in this matter").

Fortunately I have discovered a cure for these guilty feelings and it's thinking about this man, Willie Gary. When you think that Willie is asking the modest sum of $11,000.00 an hour for his time in court, what's a bit of mildly expensive hole punching between friends.

Oh, and another thing, RollOnFriday has released its survey results for Australian firms. So if you've got itchy feet, you can now make an informed decision about where to go, weighing up the quality of another firms biscuits, toilets and "phwoar" factor. I'm not sure what "phwoar" is meant to mean, but I've often said "phwoar!" on walking into my firm's toilets...

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Breaking the glass ceiling with a packet of Tim Tams?

A wise friend once told me that the real secret to success in a law firm had nothing to do with skill, dedication or number of billable units.

It all hinged on your ability to suck up to the secretaries. Unfortunately, I never quite got the knack for that.

Sometimes, when a secretary decided that she does not like you, she can make your life hell. Another friend of mine, who made the unfortunate mistake of being rude to his secretary in his first week*, was entirely frozen out of his practice group. She forgot to email him invitations to 8am work group meetings, 'misplaced' important phone messages from his supervising partner, and worst of all, told him that he was responsible for his own filing.

My friend now works at another firm and regularly brings in Tim Tams, flowers and chocolates. For other helpful suggestions on how you should treat your secretary like a partner check out this article.

I've always had a problem with delegating work to "the help", as some partners call them. I don't want them to feel like the work that I give them is beneath me. That I think I'm better than them.

It's also hard delegating work to women that are old enough to be my mother. Women that have been working here a lot longer than this young upstart who thinks she now owns the place.

Women seem to have a tough time telling other women what to do. I cringe every time I hear myself apologising at the start of each request. "If it's not too much trouble, do you mind sending this fax?" Or "Partner X asked me to ask you to help me with this, if that is ok."

Sometimes I almost envy the freedom of my male colleagues, who simply shout out "Sally, get me my lunch. Now." "Rachel, where is that address label I asked for five minutes ago?"

In firms, it is taken as read that secretaries (primarily women) serve lawyers (who were once always men). Why do women, who "occupy" the roles of men, still have to be treated as though they pose a threat to the natural order of things?

The Tea Lady is all for equality and respect. And it's definitely not beneath her to do some good old-fashioned sucking up where necessary. But surely the sucking should go both ways?

* My friend's mistake was to invite a handful of other lawyers from his new practice group out for coffee. It never occurred to him to extend the invitation to the secretaries.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Introducing "Faffing about Friday..."

Nothing is quite as perfect as a Friday afternoon with no work on the horizon (ok it's not really Friday but it may as well be). To celebrate this all too rare occurrence, the JLU introduces Faffing about Friday, an intermittent rag bag of time wasters and the esoteric to fill an empty Friday afternoon. Today's theme is different side of the world, same old crap.

Here's a column called Annonymous Assistant, a column published on the Times Online website - the JLU gives it a post nuclear 10 thumbs up (the links to the column are down the bottom of the page).

If you are after something a little more weighty, why not try this article from New York Magazine and this one from the New York Observer. Suggested time entry: "perusing article related to harassment/discrimination claim made by lawyer against senior partner in top Manhattan firm and considering legality of boiling hard-drive prior to commencement of legal proceedings" - 6 units (thanks to the Anonymous Lawyer website for putting us onto this one).

If you come across anything worthy of being included in Faffing about Friday, please email it to us.

Happy long weekend. Hope you don't have to work.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

JLU Mental Health Campaign

Today the JLU emailed managing partners from all major law firms in Australia asking them to do something about mental health in the legal profession.  Here’s copy of the email we sent out:

“Mental illness is a disease which often goes unnoticed or uncared for in workplaces across Australia.  Worryingly, it is lawyers that suffer from the highest rates of depression of any profession in Australia.

The Junior Lawyers’ Unions understands that junior lawyers are particularly prone to depression as they adapt to working within the rigours of the law.

We encourage you to do something about improving the state of mental health in your firm and ask you to consider in-house training for management and staff to help them recognise and assist those suffering from depression.

We have attached a brochure and other information for Beyond Blue, which offers suitable courses.


Junior Lawyers' Union”

If you would like us to send this e-mail to an HR manager or lawyer in your firm that we might have missed, please send us their e-mail address and we will send the e-mail for you and maintain your anonymity.

If your firm actively starts to address depression in your workplace (or is doing something about it already) please let us know and we will heap praise upon them through this blog.

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Sunday, April 01, 2007

Gadens Part II - How the LIV let us down

The Junior Lawyers Union's post about the allegedly dodgy hiring practices of Gadens was picked up in the Fin Review on Friday. Here's the article from the Legal Hearsay section in case you missed it:

"Last week The Australian Financial Review looked at the "intensifying of the war" to capture the best legal graduates. It now seems that the war may be turning dirty. Already, Allens Arthur Robinson has been caught out breaking the Law Institute of Victoria guidelines by sending out offers early.

And now the website of the Junior Lawyers Union, which describes itself as "asserting the rights of junior lawyers", has run a story alleging that at least one firm has breached the guidelines for making offers to law students.

According to the story, during the recent 2007 round of graduate recruitment, Gadens Lawyers acted outside the LIV guidelines, including putting one candidate under significant pressure to sign a contract and demanding another offer be accepted within a 24-hour period.

The LIV said it had made some inquiries about the allegation and Gadens said that as far as it was aware the protocols had been followed. The LIV said that without a formal complaint it could not take the matter further."

In fact, the JLU believes that up to eight informal complaints were made to the LIV about Gadens' recruitment drive in 2007. What is truly frustrating about this situation is that it is impossible to expect an article clerk candidate to make a formal complaint against a sizable law firm. By making a formal complaint, they risk being labelled an upstart and a whinger before they even start a career in the law. Surely eight informal complaints deserves a formal investigation where the complainants have so much to lose from having their identities revealed.

The LIV must rise to this challenge.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Dating, Depression and the Firm

The Tea Lady has only once flirted with the world of online dating. It reeked of self-conscious insecurity and deceit - full of air brushed photos taken a good five years before the present and plumped personal CV’s jam-packed with lies of omission. Truth is the first casualty of self-promotion... The Tea Lady never once came across Ben from [insert a suburb near you] who could change his underwear more often, smokes in bed and has unresolved issues with his overpowering mother whom he must call nightly when Neighbours is on.

Before you began as an optimistic AC, your firm probably sold you a dream too. No doubt, the partnership promised work life balance, “interesting work”, an environment dedicated to continuing learning, a corporate culture of openness, a love of long walks on the beach and watching the sunset, making italian food at home and cuddling....

I have only worked in one law firm but after speaking to fellow comrades, I suspect law firm HR departments are little different from the desperate and dateless so eager to gloss over the truth. One rule of thumb seems true, if a law firm says one thing when they are wooing you, the inverse is usually true. Work life balance is in fact code for cab vouchers and fast food on the firm. “Interesting work” means discovery locked in the dungeon from the Princess Bride and openness means taking instructions from your supervising partner while they are seated in a toilet cubicle because it’s the only moment when they have time.

But, during the courtship of those heady pre-articles days, perhaps their greatest lie of omission was that you were about to join the most depressed profession in Australia. I still find the statistics hard to believe: 25% per cent of lawyers suffer from elevated feelings of psychological distress - inadequacy, anxiety, social isolation and depression - up to 11 per cent of lawyers contemplate suicide monthly... But then I think about the people that work around me - the eyes that refuse to meet yours as you pass in the corridor, that haggard, focused look, the colleague that drinks themselves into oblivion at every opportunity. It all seems to fall into place.

Everyone has their own reasons for feeling depressed. Firm culture plays its part but then there’s the personalities of those that are attracted to law - we are often driven to perfectionism and like to be in control. [This paper by Dr Gautam is an outstanding investigation into depression in the legal profession.]

So enough of my trite whinging. Instead, from this day on, the JLU officially declares war on depression and on the corporate culture that allows it to fester.

Stay tuned for the campaign.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Let [s]he who has not sinned cast the first stone

Gadens, like many other law firms, has signed up to the Law Institute of Victoria Articles Guidelines. These guidelines allow participating law firms to make 'priority offers' to paralegals and to law students who have obtained vacational clerkships with the firm. Firms can make priority offers before the normal date for regular offers. Once made, a priority offer must remain open for about a month.

The JLU has recently been informed that Gadens, during the recent 2007 round of graduate recruitment, has acted outside of the LIV guidelines. The JLU will not give a detailed account of the allegations in order to protect the individuals involved. However, one of the allegations involves Gadens putting a priority offer candidate under significant pressure to sign a contract with the firm. Another involves Gadens' demanding that a priority offer be accepted within a 24 hour period, contrary to the guidelines.

Gadens, through some fairly ironic viral marketing, seems to be trying to distinguish itself from firms that mistreat their employees. The problem with acting holier than thou is that people will demand that you meet your own high standards.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Sometimes lawyers say the darndest things...

The unexpected never ceases to amaze. Hail in summer. The TV anchor who lets fly a string of obscenities when they think they are off air. The 70 year old man who was doing chin ups on my train home last night. And then there's this article from the lawyers weekly about the Sydney Careers Fair. If you haven't seen it already, look at the section devoted to Gadens.

It begs the question, was it just a tongue in cheek stunt or maybe a well aimed parting shot from a disgruntled employee? Whatever the motive, the Junior Lawyers' Union salutes you.

Tea anyone?

We chose this profession because we thought we might want to be lawyers. This Tea Lady never realised that it meant sacrificing her life on the communal alter of a top tier firm.

And it shouldn't have to be.

The fact is, while junior lawyers are supposedly part of some kind of up and coming intelligentsia, for many of us, our choices have left us feeling powerless in the face of working in the law.

The sad thing is, for this tea lady, the JLU is the closest thing she has had to a legal union. But, it is in places like this that as junior lawyers, we can begin to express our dissent.

We deserve reasonable working hours.

We deserve to have a life outside of work.

We deserve basic respect in our work places.

Tea ladies may be a dying breed but this tea lady isn't giving up without a fight.



Sunday, February 25, 2007

JLU Under New Management

The JLU clearly struck a chord with junior lawyers around the nation, as I received a number of emails from members and supporters who expressed their disappointment that the JLU's guns were to fall silent.

Well, fear not, dear comrades. After some brief negotiations, I have agreed to hand over the day-to-day editorial control of the JLU to a most suitable and worthy successor, one who will continue the fight and agitate for the founding principles of the JLU.

While I intend to maintain final, "buck stops here" oversight and may even continue to contribute from time to time, the running of the JLU has now been assumed by a fellow junior lawyer to be known simply as The Tea Lady.

As those of you who work in firms that still employ tea ladies would be well aware, The Tea Lady hears all and knows all. She is a wise soul who understands the machinations and inner workings of law firms better than most. Please make her welcome.

The Tea Lady can be reached via email at juniorlawyersunion@hotmail.com (Hotmail). I can still be reached at juniorlawyersunion@gmail.com (Gmail) if you so need.

And so begins Chapter 2 in the life of the JLU. Onwards and upwards, comrades!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The JLU says farewell

Four weeks have passed since I ended my career as a lawyer.

While it is true that, in that time, I have been busy preparing to embark on a new career in a new city, it is also true that I have not possessed the urge to post to this site.

Having escaped the clutches of big firm practice, I am no longer an insider. I am no longer in a position to tell tales from the trenches. I am also no longer motivated to push back against the constant stresses and pressures of the law firm environment.

Critics of the JLU have occasionally suggested that, if I couldn't handle the heat, I should get out of the kitchen. While I dealt with the flaw in this argument previously, I'm no dogmatist and, since I was never going to change law firm culture, I wasn't going to die trying.

While this means I am now looking forward to life free of the tyranny of the timesheet and the petulance of the partner, it also means that I am no longer in a position to offer junior lawyers a voice. As a result, I am drawing the curtain on the Junior Lawyers' Union.

Of course, the spirit of the JLU and the underlying reasons for its existence live on. Though it will not continue to actively raise matters of concern to junior lawyers, I hope the JLU has, in its short lifespan, managed to serve one of its primary purposes: making junior lawyers aware that they are not alone in their angst and frustration about their jobs and the state of the profession.

Finally, thanks to all the loyal members and readers of the Junior Lawyers' Union blog and particularly to those who left comments or contributed ideas. Your support and enthusiasm turned a kooky idea into a truly worthwhile enterprise.

In place of the ongoing wit and wisdom of the JLU, and for your regular diet of insightful thought and comment, I would recommend a blog I have recently come across called Mid(dle Austr)alia. Click on the link and have a look. Worth a read.

To all those who remain in the law: good luck - and never forget that you have far more power than you are led to believe.

Yours ever loyally,

Shop Steward

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Firm offers unexpected pay rise

I am torn today about how to report this breaking news. So let me begin with the facts and then offer two alternative analyses.


In an unexpected move, a top-tier law firm has this week advised its first and second year lawyers that they are to receive a pay rise. The firm's long-standing policy is to review junior lawyers' salaries annually on 1 July only but, citing unexpected increases in market rates, the firm has increased lawyers' annual salaries by $2,500 as of 1 January 2007.

Analysis #1

Despite the spin the firm in question has attempted to put on the pay rise, this is the same firm that we reported failed to increase salary bands in its annual pay rise in July of this year. Consequently, rather than coming six months early, the pay rise could easily be viewed as coming six months late.

Moreover, in recent months, firms generally - and this firm in particular - have suffered from especially high "attrition" rates. As we have noted previously, law firms expect to lose some staff. They budget for it. However, of late, it could fairly be said that the firm in question has been haemorrhaging talent.

Realising that it is losing good people at an alarming rate, this firm has been driven to desperate measures - offering lawyers the pay rise they should have had back in July and packaging it as an act of generosity. After all, the firm itself admits that the reason underlying the pay rise is that it had begun to lag behind prevailing top-tier market rates.

Analysis #2

The JLU recently called on law firms to stop poaching lawyers from elsewhere and start actively trying to retain them.

Having criticised firms (as recently as the latest post) for failing to adequately reward junior lawyers or ensure that they feel genuinely valued, the JLU is obliged to commend the firm in question for rising above the plummeting expectations junior lawyers have of their employers. Rather, this firm has demonstrated a degree of goodwill - sorely lacking among commercial law firms - as well, crucially, as a desire to recognise the contribution made by its junior lawyers.

I leave it to you to choose an interpretation. Or could it possibly be that a firm has begun to realise (like BP) that high employee morale can actually benefit a firm's bottom line?

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Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Grinch who stole Minters' Christmas

As a follow-up to the post on the "come straight from work" Christmas party, it is worth noting that the Hearsay column in the Legal Affairs section of yesterday's Fin Review reported that, to the chagrin of staff, Minter Ellison has cancelled its firm-wide Christmas party entirely!

Meanwhile, on the page directly opposite, the latest reported figures show Minters to be by far the largest firm in Australia. More partners and more lawyers than any other firm in the country.

What is it with law firms and morale? They just don't get it, do they?

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Friday, December 15, 2006

The research he was born to perform

You have got to be kidding me. Check out the name of the expert quoted in this article, part of which is reproduced below. Is it April 1st already?

(With the exception of the obvious joke about them all being d*ckheads, I know this has nothing to do with lawyers. But then, from the end of next week, neither will I.)

Male circumcision halves HIV infection rates
December 14, 2006 - 11:47AM

Circumcising men cuts their risk of being infected with the AIDS virus in half, and could prevent hundreds of thousands or even millions of new infections, researchers say.

Circumcising men worked so well that the researchers stopped two large clinical trials in Kenya and Uganda to announce the results today, although they cautioned that the procedure does not make men immune to the virus.

Public health leaders hailed the results as pointing to a potentially powerful way to reduce HIV infections in Africa, the continent hardest hit by AIDS.

"It does have the potential to prevent many tens of thousands, many hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions of infections over coming years," Dr. Kevin De Cock, director of the World Health Organisation's Department of HIV/AIDS, told reporters.

Makes sense, I guess, to ask de cock what he dinks about de circumcision.


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Christmas minefield

It's Christmas party season and, all around the Jesus/Santa-worshipping world, law firm employees are getting drunk and telling each other what they really think of one another.

As a general rule, whether this involves "You knowwww, I've always secretly rooly loiked youuu" or "Jusht becaushhh you're faaat and ug-ly, doesn't mean you havta be a BITCH as well", in the cold hard light of the following day, discretion would almost certainly have proven the better part of valour. This is one area where truth offers little defence.

Actions that may have appeared heroic after an evening of having your glass regularly topped up will almost invariably not seem so clever when you find yourself staring at the object of your affection/loathing at your weekly workgroup meeting on Monday morning.

Leaving aside the vitriolic side of things for the time being, there is a genuine question here. Since hitting on your workmates is a clear and distinct no-no, what do you do when you have spent the entire year lusting after someone you work with?

Those of us without superhero good looks may easily be tempted to view the Christmas party, where everyone (including the colleague you've spent all year checking out) lets go of their inhibitions, as the opportunity to make our feelings known. Of course, when this ends in rejection, you've ruined everyone's night. And possibly just committed sexual harassment.

This can hit pretty hard and I imagine that Friday nights in December are peak season for suicide watch on the Harbour Bridge or the West Gate. I distinctly remember one colleague storming out of an after-party, cursing girls generally and threatening (albeit in jest) to top himself.

Then again, sometimes the only thing worse than being rejected is not being rejected. Apart from the standard morning-after "Oh no... I did what with who?" that I associate more with being a teenager, the workplace Christmas party offers the potential for a whole new dimension of regret.

Consequently (and in order to protect their own arses from sexual harassment liability), in recent years, firms have adopted the practice of sending around sexual harassment "reminder" emails in the days leading up to the firm Christmas party.

Back when I was a vacation clerk, on the morning of the firm Christmas party, an office-wide email came around "on behalf of" the Managing Partner from his secretary, gently turning our minds to the sexual harassment policies and suggesting everyone "look out for one another".

As things transpired, one interpretation of events later that evening is that the (married) Managing Partner and his (married) secretary were closely "looking out for one another" on the sticky dance floor of the after-party bar. Nice work.

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Come as you are

We received details of our firm Christmas party a little while ago.

Some of us were looking forward to a theme and the potential to dress up - Pirates of the Caribbean perhaps, possibly 1920s gangsters or even come as your favourite Justice of the High Court. (I would've gotten stuck into the bean salad and come as Windeyer J.)

Then we saw the invitation. It read (in part):

Time: 7pm
Dress: business attire
Location: [venue immediately around the corner from the office]

In other words, "We've arranged it so that you can come straight from work. You don't even have to get changed. That way you can stay at work until 6.45."


Talk about squeezing every last drop.


Monday, December 11, 2006

Comments temporarily lost in the ether

Apologies to all JLU members and readers who left comments over the past few weeks. They appear to have been caught in some sort of blogger ether. I wondered for a while why everyone had gone so quiet.

The JLU site has just been switched over to "beta" (whatever that means - is "beta" better than "alpha" or is alpha what I'm aspiring to?) - and the comments suddenly appeared out of nowhere.

Now that they have belatedly been published, I will go through them and, where applicable, offer a response. I can make such promises because, since I'm finishing up next week, I now have virtually no work. How luxurious!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Smelling the roses, and the law that does nothing

When I resigned back in October, I agreed to serve out my contractual notice period of three months. What I was really hoping for by giving such an unnaturally long period of notice was for my workload to diminish to the point where there was no reason to keep me around, at which time the firm would suggest I enjoy a period of "gardening leave".

This, of course, was pure fantasy.

"Gardening leave", for those unfamiliar with the expression, involves being sent home (notionally to tend to your garden) on full pay for the remainder of one's notice period. It is not an uncommon practice among corporations that wish to prevent executives from working for a competitor but, I dare say, it is completely unheard of in relation to junior lawyers.

The weeks immediately following my resignation were possibly the busiest I've had, as the firm excised its juiciest pound of flesh yet while I remained a captive employee. Since then, however, things have quietened down and I've had a chance to ponder various schemes for getting myself sent on gardening leave for my last month or so.

Then I spotted my sick leave balance. I have almost 20 days of personal leave accumulated. Man, that's four weeks. I could basically take off a month for some cosmetic surgery (that I so desperately need) and have the cost covered by my sick leave. (Well, maybe. What does cosmetic surgery cost these days?)

Just as I was contemplating rhinoplasty, Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews announced new laws enabling employees to cash out their personal (sick) leave. How good is that?! Instead of throwing sickies, you can just take the cash!

Admittedly, the end of the sickie would mean the demise of a long and culturally-accepted tradition, which would be decidedly un-Australian. But it sounds like a bloody good deal to me. Could it really be so?

No, of course it isn't.

Upon closer inspection, employees can cash out their personal leave down to the point where they have 15 days remaining. Ok, so I can cash out a week. Not so bad.

Well, actually, any request to exercise the right to cash out sick leave must be made in writing to your employer and is subject to your employer's agreement.

Wait a minute. So I can cash out sick leave if my employer wants me to? In other words, the firm will give me money if it feels like it. What are the odds of that?

Upon learning of the new law, one partner here put it best: "Why on earth would any employer agree to that?"


Thanks very much Mr Andrews. Looks like I'll be having that nose job after all.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Rudd to open the bowling, McGrath for PM

A day that shall live in infamy. And one of contrasting lessons.

A Fairfax/ACNielsen poll comes out showing ALP leads the Coalition by a whopping 56-44. Yet, ignoring its yawning 12 point lead and displaying both utter short-sightedness and irrefutable evidence that it has forgotten how to win, federal caucus decides it's time for a change. Beazley out, Rudd in.

Meanwhile, at the Adelaide Oval, Australia fights a rearguard action to save the second Ashes Test. Why? Because England has declared on 551 after the three-and-a-half man Australian bowling attack could only manage six wickets in two days of cricket.

Example 1: A team so used to losing that change seems the only way to win.
Example 2: A team so used to winning that change would only rock the boat.

Having been to four of the five Ashes Tests in England in 2005, your loyal Shop Steward learnt some lessons from that fateful tour and stated last week that an unfit McGrath had no place in the team for the second Test. Moreover, an Australia without McGrath, having made 10/800+ on its previous outing, would need five bowlers on the flat Adelaide track more than the extra batsman. Consequently, I proposed the following line-up:
1. Langer
2. Hayden (with Phil Jaques to play the third Test if Hayden failed against England again)
3. Ponting
4. Martyn
5. Hussey
6. Gilchrist (with Haddin potentially ready to go by the fourth Test)
7. Lee (better batsman than Warne)
8. Warne
9. Bracken (better variety to complement Lee and Clark)
10. Clark
11. MacGill

Unfortunately, however, the Australian selectors opted to stay with the same team - including a hobbled Glenn McGrath - while the parliamentary Labor party opted for change and dumped the man I consider to be the best Prime Minister Australia's never had.

Though frustrated, I'll continue to support the Australian cricket team. I'm not so sure about the ALP.

The JLU does not insist upon uniformity of opinion and the above reflects only the views of Shop Steward and not the JLU as a whole. That said, you can rest assured that there will be no leadership spill at the JLU.

Sunday, December 03, 2006


So the summer's first batch of doe-eyed vacation clerks has arrived and they are currently doing their thing at firms around the nation.

"Their thing" broadly entails:
(a) nodding over-zealously and looking far too interested when engaged in conversation;
(b) pretending to anyone who'll listen that they're desperate to become life-long commercial lawyers;
(c) displaying an abject inability to distinguish between the people who have the final say as to whether they end up with articles and the people who clean the toilets; and
(d) drinking.

As a result of the above, you'll easily be able to identify the vacation clerks at your firm. They're the ones standing in the library, earnestly telling a research assistant how much they enjoyed Equity and how fascinating they found Corporations Law.

Most of all, though, the vacation clerks are distinguishable from the sullen rest of the firm because they still possess that sweet bird of youth long since extinguished in everyone else. We others are worn down by day upon wearying day of air conditioned offices, fluorescent lighting and constant brow furrowing. In contrast, the vacation clerks glide around looking decidedly nubile.

A few other brief observations about vacation clerks:

1. They're uni students so they wear the same suit every day for four weeks. Thus, while they might be better looking than us, we're far more sophisticated.

2. Older partners often find much amusement in chortling, "Having looked over your profiles, if I were applying for articles now, I'd never have got a job here. Ha ha ha."
That's because, in addition to supreme marks and extensive co-curricular involvement, each clerk is now expected to have saved the world at least twice by the age of 21. And most have too. (Or at least that's what their CVs say.) Such breadth of experience is ideal preparation, of course, for a year or two of discovery.

3. HR conveners of vacation clerk events appear to have assumed that entertaining the vacation clerks involves plying them with vast quantities of alcohol. Every event includes drinks. This approach may hold some appeal for the battle-hardened lawyer masses who leap at opportunities to drown our sorrows but the vacation clerks seem to know better. Shame really. They'd be so much more entertaining completely sozzled.