JLU: Junior Lawyers' Union

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

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Law firms depriving annual leave of meaning

I recently took a couple of days of annual leave. When my grandmother called and discovered I wasn't at work, it was like I had committed some grave sin. Previously, my absence from the office on the Queen's Birthday public holiday had caused her to shake her head as if I was lazy. In her mind, Monday to Fridays are for work and that's that.

"We get public holidays off," I told her. "And twenty days' annual leave a year."
"Twenty days?!" she exclaimed. "You LUCKY thing!"
"Grandma, it's the statutory minimum."
"You're very lucky."
"They get a minimum of twenty-five days in the UK."
She looked away and dismissed the thought of such extravagance with a wave of her hand.

As I disconsolately front up to work this weekend, however, it occurred to me that annual leave is effectively being deprived of meaning. What is the purpose of mandating twenty days' leave from the workplace if you're spending at least twenty days a year in the office on weekends? Put simply, annual leave is being neutralised.

Australian governments - of both political persuasions - have accepted that four weeks' annual leave is a right that needs to exist in order to preserve the health and welfare of all employees. So law firms reluctantly honour this requirement. But they also manage to work around it. You'll work nights and you'll work weekends - but, hey, you get your twenty days a year off. Even if they're the only days you get off!

But what government really meant is that employees are entitled to at least twenty days away from work in addition to nights, weekends and public holidays. This is why public holidays are gazetted and the working week has been capped at 38 hours.

Yet, with law firms' interpretation of the "38 hour week" (which essentially is that any additional hours required by firms of their junior lawyers are "reasonable"), junior lawyers could theoretically find themselves working up to 345 days a year. With weekends, public holidays and annual leave, even our government only intends for us to work a maximum of about 232 days per year.

Your twenty days of annual leave are completely deprived of meaning if you're working many more than that in days that you're supposed to have off. And, at most firms, uttering the phrase "days in lieu" will, at best, result in a confused look and, at worst, outright amusement.

Comrades, we junior lawyers who work weekends are not paid overtime. Instead, as the firms express it, our remuneration package is "all inclusive" and "takes into account work that may be performed outside normal office hours". (As to why we happen to be working weekends, see here.) But, worse, we're not actually accruing any annual leave for these additional days we're in the office. So it turns out to be cheaper for the firms to have us in on weekends than during normal office hours.

And, comrades, that can't be right. After all, even my grandmother doesn't expect me to be at work on the weekend.

Friday, August 25, 2006


Just a reminder, comrades, of today's strike. It is imperative to our struggle for better working conditions that all junior lawyers down tools for a full hour at lunchtime today.

Viva la revolution!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Call for junior lawyers to strike


Over the past three months, the JLU has sought to raise the awareness of the plight of junior lawyers and create a sense of solidarity among them with a view to their empowerment and a remedying of the power imbalance that exists in law firms.

This has been all talk. The time for ACTION has arrived.

The JLU is therefore calling for a day of mass protest on Friday 25 August 2006. COMRADES, WE'RE GOING ON STRIKE!

Since the JLU recognises that lawyers are a conservative, timid bunch, however, our strike will take the following form: on Friday 25 August 2006, every junior lawyer is to take his or her full lunch break! Imagine it: no junior lawyers working through lunch!

On this day, there is to be no "I just want to finish something off" or "I'm really under the pump". On this day, the JLU urges all junior lawyers to take their full contractual entitlement to an hour away from the office.

Email it to your Blackberry. Slap a post-it note on your forehead. Save it in your Outlook as "Must Attend".

Perhaps even take the opportunity to reacquaint yourself with some of your old articles buddies over lunch. After all, one of the key ways in which law firms ensure the submission of junior lawyers to the system is by quietly discouraging them from taking lunch - from socialising - where subversive, treacherous discussion may take place and lawyers may find that there are others just like them: oppressed, disheartened, discouraged.

Comrades, we must walk before we can run. But that doesn't mean the JLU doesn't have lofty goals. Today - a lunch break; tomorrow - leaving the office at the end of official office hours; next week - a recognition of outside commitments.

Tell your friends, tell your colleagues, even tell your responsible partner (from a safe distance). But most importantly, on Friday 25 August 2006, tell the staff at your favourite lunch place that you'll be having that focaccia to eat in!