JLU: Junior Lawyers' Union

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

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Junior lawyers paying for partners' disorganisation


Have you ever had a partner stride into your office, as twilight fades outside, and found yourself taking instructions for work that is to be completed by the "close of business tomorrow"? The partner then retreats into his or her office and forwards you the initial email from the client - for the sake of background or further clarification - with a curtly added "FYI".

After cancelling your plans with your increasingly frustrated girlfriend/boyfriend and making yourself comfortable for a long night at the coal face, you read over the client email a second time. Your eyes, skimming across the lines of text, hover momentarily on a small piece of information: the date on which the email was originally sent by the client. It was sent last week.


I put it to you that such behaviour by partners is commonplace. While we, the workers, are expected to perform our tasks to the standard demanded of us and the deadlines imposed upon us, partners sit on instructions for days and even weeks at a time, before briefing us and declaring the matter "urgent". And then, comrades, we are expected, nay, required to put our lives, our relationships and our priorities aside to perform this "urgent work" for just such disorganised partners.

It is time for partners to be made to see that junior lawyers have lives and families outside work. One of the criteria for determining whether additional hours are "reasonable" under the revised Workplace Relations Act is the amount of notice given to an employee of the need to work the additional hours. No longer should junior lawyers be expected to work long into the night at the whim of partners who fail to properly manage their time.

It is time to take a stand!


Anonymous Home Alone said...

I am a junior lawyer. I was lucky enough to spend my first few years working at a suburban firm at which billing was not the be-all-and-end-all (largely because they often charged scale costs or did no-win-no-fee), and they would generally turn the lights off on you if you were still there at 6pm.

I have now moved to a small city firm, and began to feel increasingly guilty leaving work at 5.30pm every day - despite the fact that in doing this for the first month I still managed to exceed my budget - because the other lawyers all routinely stay back until 7.00pm or later.

Unfortunately billing requirements have since been increased, and I have started to stay back late on a regular basis - and by late, I mean 6.00pm. Because, guys and gals, this is late. If I tried calling most of my clients after about 5pm, I'm sure most of them would have gone off home. And god forbid if you should try to speak to a member of the court staff after 4.30pm! The only other people I could possibly contact at this kind of hour would be other poor sods like me - private practice lawyers.

So, despite the culture shift to the city firm, I have continued have keep to strict rules about how much time I spend at work:

1. Everything to do with me, my family and my loved ones (including my dogs) comes first.
2. Everything to do with work comes second.
3. 8 hours (and X billable units) is more than enough to give to my workplace already.
4. The other 16 hours of the day are mine, ALL MINE.
5. If my workplace wants me to do non-billable things (client presentations, etc) this stuff comes out of my billable hours - it does NOT get added on top of them.

So far, no problemo - I mostly get the required hours done, and seem to be able to meet my budget this way - although my annual review is coming up, so we'll see if my attendance gets raised as an issue. In addition, I cannot give a guarantee that my career will not suffer in the long-term, and it may well be that others are raised to glorified heights well before I get a look-in.

But the basic moral of my story is that you can do it - you can regularly leave on time and not get fired. However, I recognise that I am still relatively lucky, as in certain workplaces there are additional complications...

My "better" half is also a lawyer (foolish, foolish me) at one of the Big Firms. His supervising partner frequently gives him new, urgent work between 5.30 and 6.00pm, or even later, and sometimes even as he is quite obviously walking out the door on his way home. Take last night as an example. I've been home on my own (well, with dogs) for the better part of an hour, when I call my man and ask him where he's at. Work, of course. Once again his partner has dropped a bomb sometime late afternoon/early evening, and there's a lot of stuff that needs to be done before the night is out. (As an aside: how much of that "urgent" stuff really needs to be done before the next day?? I would wager a lot less than the partners frequently represent...)

There are a few issues here. Firstly there is the issue raised by SS - apparently this partner's day is taken up by meetings with clients and the like, so actual work ends up happening after business hours, as it were. This is very wrong - junior lawyers should not be copping it because the partners have trouble fitting their extensive timetables into the 9-5 working day. Secondly, I should note that in this case it is not entirely the fault of the partner (although by the sounds of it I think he seriously needs to take a chill pill and get a life) - because it seems that the clients in this area often tend to call up last minute.

But this is where it starts to get a bit circular - because if the clients knew the office would be empty after 6pm, then they wouldn't call; but as it happens, they know the office will be chocked full of lawyers (= suckers) because the partners are afraid that if they're not there to answer the call, then one of the other Big Firms will be, and bye-bye Mr Client (who you spent all those daytime meetings wooing in the first place).

So how do we combat the fact that long hours can be driven by client expectations, as well as the internal pressures of legal culture? I guess one thing is that we need to encourage the liberation of lawyers at all levels, and in all firms - and stop allowing the crazy workaholics who seem to be in charge of private practice in the legal world to set the parameters and allow client's expectations to get out of control.

So please join SS's very worthy cause - and let's try and make sure that this generation of young lawyers grows up knowing what it's like to come home while it's still light...

01 June, 2006 18:16  
Blogger cherry ripe said...

You might find that the attorney-general/Min for industrial relations could take up your cause...

05 June, 2006 12:39  
Blogger Shop Steward said...

I'm not so sure, ceecee, that Messrs Ruddock and Andrews are big advocates of the rights of the working man or woman.

06 June, 2006 09:52  
Blogger cherry ripe said...

Oh ho ho you are of course very funny...

I meant Mr Hulls, but I'm assuming you're Victorian, which may be incorrect

06 June, 2006 16:22  
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17 August, 2006 10:49  

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