JLU: Junior Lawyers' Union

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

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Why do we need a union?

The pressure placed on junior lawyers is usually unspoken and only ever implied.

For the most part, it consists of:
  • unrealistic deadlines;
  • "requests" at 5.30 on a Friday afternoon to have something completed by "first thing Monday" (when, then, is the task supposed to be done but over the weekend?);
  • references to having to work additional hours as the business requires it - when the truth is that the business almost always "requires" it and, even when it doesn't (and where a junior lawyer has spent the day reading the newspaper online or playing solitaire), the fear of raised eyebrows mean few junior lawyers dare leave their desks anytime before 6pm;
  • demands that lawyers bill 6 or 7 hours a day - while also finding time to do pro bono work, write articles, present papers and contribute to the precedent collection of the firm; and so on.

That the pressure is unspoken is a golden rule at large law firms in particular. It is for this reason that what Tom Poulton, Managing Partner of Allens Arthur Robinson, came out and said last year on the record to BRW was so unexpected. So imbued with the oppressive law firm "culture" and so out of touch with community values and expectations in post-industrial revolution Western society (let alone the twenty-first century), Mr Poulton openly gloated about the exploitation of his employees in the following terms:

"We don't run this place as a holiday camp.... We expect our people to treat the client as if they were God and to put themselves out for clients. You don't say 'Sorry I can't do it, I'm playing cricket on the weekend.'... You don't have a right to any free time."


Well, Mr Poulton, we at the JLU say that lawyers - even your lawyers - do have a right to free time. In fact, we have a very specific view of our members' obligations:

During standard working hours, the default position is that work matters are to take priority. Personal matters or appointments should intrude as little as possible into working hours. Outside standard working hours, however, work matters should likewise - and in practice, not merely in a rhetorical sense - intrude as little as possible into lawyers' personal time.

In short, Mr Poulton, you do not have a right to insist junior legal staff put aside their existing personal lives and commitments in order to put more money in your pocket.

Never forget, comrades, that partners at top-tier law firms each and every working day earn what you receive once a month in your desperately-anticipated pay packets. Imagine every day being pay day. Well, comrades, for the partners who so often treat you with contempt and expect you to work as hard as them (for a fraction of the reward), it is!

That said, Mr Poulton should be congratulated for openly saying what his partners only say by implication (even if the resultant uproar left poor Tom confused and saying, "What? [pause] What?? [pause] What did I say??").

In the meantime, we understand the fear that inhabits the hearts of junior lawyers - at the thought of walking out of the office, head held high, jacket on and bag in hand at 5.15pm, or telling a partner that you cannot meet an unrealistic deadline, or that you cannot and will not spend your weekend performing a dull due diligence.

We understand that junior lawyers leave jackets on chairs, bags by desks and computers on overnight just to maintain an appearance of still being in the office even when they have gathered up the courage to walk out of the office. We find this stupid and unnecessary. It takes two to tango and we advise our members not to dance this dance.

Our aim at the JLU is to harness the collective power of junior lawyers - a power many don't even realise they possess (can you imagine the panic among partners of top-tier firms if junior lawyers all failed to show up to work even for one day?) - to create an environment where junior lawyers work reasonable hours and partners ask, rather than expect, lawyers to work beyond these hours.

If the above sounds familiar and you wish to be a member of the JLU, it is free. Just send an email to juniorlawyersunion@gmail.com and request to be added to the distribution list. At this stage that just means you will receive JLU updates as and when they start flowing more regularly.

We don't have a privacy policy - so don't ask. But, rest assured, we understand the culture of fear that pervades law firms so membership is effectively anonymous. We will never advise anyone of your identity, release your details or use your email address for any purpose other than JLU communication.

Finally, the only way for people to know about our movement is word of mouth. Please help us out by forwarding the link to our website/blog to your friends and colleagues. (One day we hope to graduate to a real website.)



Blogger Legal Eagle said...

Hear, hear, Shop Steward. I have always thought that we needed a union. The LIV is not actually interested in looking after young lawyers as far as I can tell.

26 May, 2006 11:15  
Blogger Legal Eagle said...

P.S. Can I recommend my blog site as well? I think some of my observations may be of interest to your members.


26 May, 2006 11:22  
Blogger Shop Steward said...

Thank you for your comments, legal eagle. We at the JLU are always keen to affiliate with like-minded organisations and individuals and have added a link to your site.

26 May, 2006 14:06  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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16 February, 2007 22:22  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congratulations, this is an excellent concept! I'm not aware of the structure of LIV, but the Law Socitey here in NSW has a chapter for junior practioners called Young Lawyers. It is a toothless tiger. Not because the Law Society places restrictions on YL, no rather there is much nepotism amongst previous and existing YL executive. So junior practitioners continue to suffer. Very sad really.

04 May, 2007 02:01  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment is terribly late- but I just stumbled upon this post now.
I agree with your perspectives that perhaps the pressure placed upon junior lawyers is of an unreasonable amount- but let me say this, don't think that such pressures are limited to junior lawyers.
I grew up in a house where both of my parents were lawyers at large commercial law firms. Both had senior roles at these law firms, and by the sounds of it they worked just as hard (if not harder) than what you are claiming junior lawyers do.
If you are not willing to work hard, the answer is simple. Leave the job.
Placements within large and successful law firms are very competitive. So if you aren't prepared to put in the extra hours, even if this means perhaps working over the weekend (something which is expected in the majority of jobs, anyway) then give up your placement to another more willing employee.
At the end of the day, “nothing worth doing is easy”.

30 September, 2011 12:43  

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