JLU: Junior Lawyers' Union

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

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Anyone remember morale?

Morale is not the name of the immigrant who comes around and cleans your office at 8pm when you're still at work trying to finish something off. No, it's a long-forgotten concept whereby individuals feel valued as successful members of a team or collaboration. Not that today's generation of junior lawyers could be expected to know.

In the stressed, time poor environment of the modern law firm, the absence of pats on the back for a job well done (or the hours dedicated and personal life sacrificed) are but the tip of the morale-busting iceberg.

For the junior lawyers of the 21st century, law firms are cold, sterile, mean places. But it wasn't always so.

There once existed the era of the boozy Friday lunch, where the work could wait until mañana (and that didn't mean Saturday) and value was given to client schmoozing and group bonding.

Unfortunately, that era has passed.

Much of the reason for this is that the old-fashioned partners, who recognised that monthly billings are not the be-all and end-all, have been pushed out in the name of efficiency, as the new breed of greedy, ambitious partners strive for ever-greater earnings.

Sadly, the recent trend has been for the true characters - partners who tended to drink too much, tell bawdy jokes and never touch a keyboard - to be forced to unload their equity. The firms they once built, meanwhile, have become national, soulless monoliths in the hands of their successors, who insist that no profit is ever enough.

The upshot of this for the junior lawyer is that every benefit, every ounce of law firm generosity that once existed is now seen as budget waste and is progressively stripped away.

Those boozy Friday lunches have long become a myth descended from the '80s. Nowadays, not only are junior lawyers expected to zip back to work from firm lunches by 2pm - but they're also expected to pay their own way.

Earlier in my career, at a farewell lunch for a colleague about to begin maternity leave, I ordered a steak and assumed it would be on the firm. Once the meal was completed, the partner (annual income: $1m) was handed the bill. He contemplated it, cleared his throat and proceeded to read out what each of us owed. ("Porterhouse: $24.50.")

This is a culture where profits are not wasted on anything that could possibly improve morale. It is a culture where firm "retreats" begin on Friday evenings and end on Sundays, ensuring that no potential billing time is lost. I am unclear why these weekend work events are termed "retreats". Weekends are retreats: retreats from work and from my "firm face" (ie. the need to smile banally at partners I disdain). Why would I want a "retreat" from my weekend?

The culture of law firms has become a culture of cheapness, of cost-cutting and of squeezing lawyers for every last drop of their soul.

Gone are the days of long lunches paid for by the firm. Here, in their place, are lawyers who feel the need to check their Blackberries at the firm Christmas party. If there is one.

4 Comments:

Blogger Legal Eagle said...

I have written a response
to the points raised in your post - please feel free to comment!

18 September, 2006 14:50  
Blogger Legal Eagle said...

I may have to eat some of my words(or perhaps drink them with a shot of neat whiskey?). According to a study I found, limiting drinking in the workplace too much can adversely affect workers and the economy! See my further post for more information.

18 September, 2006 16:11  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is easy to escape your problem. Simply escape your top tier firm. If you work for the right small firm you will not face the issues you highlight in your article.... and yes, you can still earn six figure salaries. As a bonus you can have job satisfaction, support and encouragement.....and even your weekends to yourself!

18 September, 2006 16:27  
Blogger Shop Steward said...

Comrades working for firms of all sizes - from top-tier Melbourne firms to Tasmanian family law practices - have written to the JLU, identifying with the issues raised.

Your point is a good one, though - if, as you concede, one can find the right small firm.

The question is: does such a firm exist?

18 September, 2006 16:32  

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