JLU: Junior Lawyers' Union

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

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

You'll never work alone

At many places of work, employees will offset the risk of burn out by taking "mental health days" - ie. sickies. At law firms, however, junior lawyers are expected to be on deck, servicing clients and running up those billable units, come hell or high water. Usually hell.

The simple question implicitly posed to junior lawyers is "If you take a sick day on those random days when you're actually sick, how is the work going to get done?" There are, after all, people depending on you and unscheduled sick days do not allow for handover memos or extensions of deadlines and that's... well... that's just unprofessional.

Surely, though, in extreme cases, junior lawyers can be excused from work. Right?

Well, let's consider two examples from the past few days.

Example one.

On Sunday, several large law firms engaged in battle - on the rugby field - at the inter-firm Flett Cup. In the hurly-burly of the repeated collision of bodies built to sit behind desks, two individuals from one particular firm each managed to fracture a wrist.

One JLU member forwarded to us the match report that was sent around that particular firm the following day. Matter-of-factly, the match report concluded: "Of the two injured players, both John and Howard were at work today, with John having been operated on overnight. We wish both the very best for their respective recoveries".*

We wish them the best for their respective recoveries... as long as they front up for work?? I mean, sure, they can still use a dictaphone, right?

Dude, they broke their wrists. One had an operation only a few hours before. And they're turning up to work? This goes beyond admirable dedication and arrives at raving lunacy.

Example two.

This morning news flashed around the globe of the military coup (is there any other kind?) in Thailand. Two things went on as normal: tourists continued to drink uninterrupted at seedy local bars and expat lawyers turned up to work to push papers around.

The mentality of law firms, as comrades would well know, is that absolutely nothing could possibly be as important as pushing papers around. The serious impression imparted on junior lawyers is that the world will stop turning if we fail to show up and push said papers around our desks.

Part of the reason for this is that, if lawyers aren't convinced that what we're doing is of utmost importance, it is hard to convince clients of that fact. Allowing clients the impression that they could largely do without us is the equivalent of suggesting to them that the emperor (or in the case of Thailand, his Majesty the King) may be strolling around stark naked.

In order, therefore, to reinforce the sense of how crucial we are to the world's continued existence, lawyers are expected to show up in rain, hail or shine (be that acid rain, hail of gunfire or black eye shiner).

And so it was this morning in the Bangkok office of one Australian firm, which proudly advised that, despite the military-decreed public holiday, its lawyers had run the gauntlet, reported for work and were pleased to be ready to accept clients' instructions, should they be forthcoming.

There's something wrong with a culture like that. It is a culture that makes us at the JLU sick. Sick enough to take the day off. The work can wait.

* Names changed for privacy purposes.


Blogger Legal Eagle said...

I am happy to say that when I was not well during my pregnancy, one of my bosses sent me home. Immediately. He said nothing was more important than my health and my baby. He was right. I thank him for being a voice of reason.

I remember having an argument with a particularly workaholic friend of mine regarding her unhealthily crazy hours. She had a serious health condition which was being exacerbated by the amount of time she was spending at work.

I said: "Do you think they're going to give you a medal for struggling in even when you're exhausted and unwell? NO! If you work yourself into the grave they'll just replace you with another drone, don't kid yourself." Having worked in over five different workplaces, I know that no one is irreplaceable, no one is essential, and life goes on. The important thing is to look after yourself and look after your health. Because, (except in rare cases) no one else is going to.

21 September, 2006 18:00  
Blogger I am the Queen of F*%&ING EVERYTHNG...OK!! said...

I agree, no one is going to place less pressure on you or take it easy withthe workload or even pay you extra for turning up to work sick. Worst case is that you spead your germs abouthe office via the airvents and everyone else catches it and so begins the Catch 22. I have never been healthier since leaving the workforce especially ducted cooling/heating office where they never clean the ducting or the vents.

25 September, 2006 15:47  

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