JLU: Junior Lawyers' Union

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

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Debunking the "take it or leave it" myth

A lot of the posts thus far in the JLU's existence have railed angrily against the oppression of the junior lawyer in private practice, the injustices in the system and the culture of fear and pressure that pervades Collins St, George St /Martin Place, etc.

It would be fair, then, to ask the obvious question: If you resent working in a law firm so much, and feel it amounts to virtual slavery, why would you remain in private practice?

After all, one might add, there are a myriad of other options open to the junior lawyer: Go in-house. Go work in the public sector and enjoy flexi-time. Go live on a commune. Go do something - anything - that doesn't involve the rigours of private practice you seem to despise.

The response to this is two-fold.

Firstly, working at a law firm is not all doom and gloom. Much of it may well be - but it also obviously has many benefits. But two of these benefits are:

(i) the occasional mental challenge posed by legal work; and
(ii) being paid above the average wage of someone with the equivalent experience in another field.

Occasionally, and depending on one's employer, a feeling of doing good for someone or society generally may also arise. (This is rare.)

Despite these benefits, the JLU would serve no purpose if it acted primarily as a cheer squad for the legal industry. (What, with a range of awards and self-aggrandising hype, the industry performs this role well enough itself without the assistance of the JLU.)

Secondly, the "take it or leave it" argument doesn't wash. Employment laws generally would be redundant if this constituted a valid argument against unsatisfactory working conditions or environments. Consider some logical extrapolations - both in the legal industry and elsewhere:
  • "This is our unsafe workplace. If you don't like it, you can find a job elsewhere."
  • "We've decided to reduce annual leave to two weeks per year. Other employers have done the same. Take it or leave it."
If you argue that working obscenely long hours is just the industry norm and, if you don't like it, you should do something else, you're telling lawyers to shut up and accept what stonemasons, coal miners and manufacturing workers rejected over a hundred years ago.

The 8 hour day, which generations before us fought so hard to enshrine as a basic standard - and which has been respected for 150 years - goes out the window, as well as minimum wages, sick/annual/long service leave and other basic rights that have accrued over time.

Simple supply and demand is not the solution to labour issues generally, nor should it be in the legal industry. Rather, certain lines need to be drawn in the sand and, in the case of the plight of junior lawyers, the JLU exists to agitate on the issues that are relevant to its members.


Blogger I am the Queen of F*%&ING EVERYTHNG...OK!! said...

I pity you I really do, so many hours such ideals * sigh* why did I study law again??

12 July, 2006 18:06  
Anonymous Anon said...

The law itself is something noble and full of promise.

The people who practice it however are a different beast, driven by objectives that ca exist in a contray manner to the purpose of law.

That is life, admittedly.

I personally think that if living on a beach was sustainable, it would be adios from me..........

ps: love your work angry bee.

01 August, 2006 08:53  

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