JLU: Junior Lawyers' Union

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

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The charm defensive - part 1

I resigned last week.

Under my contract, the firm requires me to give three months' notice and, as I need the money, I agreed to work out the notice period in its entirety. The beauty of this situation, of course, is that the charade is over. I am now effectively dead man working.

Except for serious misconduct (such as the maintenance of this blog on work time), I cannot be fired. That's quite a liberating feeling. Rather than having to pretend I care, that I genuinely would take a bullet for a client, I am free to conduct myself according to my own priorities and sense of reason, not the firm's.

In the period since I submitted my resignation, I have had one moment when a partner sought to impart the usual subtle pressure by suggesting that he was "disappointed" I hadn't seen fit to come in before 8am on a particularly busy morning. I heard him out, said nothing but "Sorry" and shrugged. There was a momentary, glorious flicker of recognition in the partner's eyes that he had lost his intimidatory power.

By resigning, I had completely messed with the existing power dynamic of the relationship. There was no more need to dance the dance.

Earlier, when I informed my responsible partner of my decision to resign, he transformed from a frowning, full-throttle, stormy machine, too busy to waste words on compliments or niceties, to a previously-unseen genial bloke, with all the time in the world to discuss my strengths, interests and future plans.

Then, when I told a more senior partner, who had played a key role in hiring me all those years ago, there was genuine disappointment. "Is there anything we can do to make you stay?" she asked.

This was the perfect opportunity to set out the JLU's manifesto in its entirety: fewer working hours, respect (not just lip service) for work/life balance, a sense that employees are valued and appreciated by the firm, proper mentoring by partners - including a genuine interest in junior lawyers' professional development, proper diversity of work (beyond slaving away endlessly on Project Rectal Exam), etc, etc...

And, of course, it was a chance to get a few extra bucks. Maybe $10K.

Instead, I stoically shook my head. "No," I said. "I've made up my mind."


Blogger Damaskinos said...

I have recently resigned too. To make it worse I'm the 1,825th person to have resigned from my department within the last 2-3 years, such that a department which once took up an entire floor now takes up only less than one third.

Anyway the reactions from the partners were interesting. The one to whom I handed in notice looked angry when I resigned (another 3 have resigned recently), but his face suddenly turned for the better as soon as I announced that I will be joining a client. He then proceeded to give me the whole "we would have made you partner in 4-5 years" speech.

Another partner was genuinely saddened.

Then, in the spirit of eternal cynicism, one partner asked if I might stay on, before proceeding to say that he hopes we will work together in the future and let's have a few beers sometime both before and after I leave.

In short, they are now all very nice to me. I wonder if things might've been different if I am not going to become a potential client.

26 October, 2006 18:40  
Blogger Shop Steward said...

You raise a couple of very interesting points. One of them - relating to what firms euphemistically call "attrition rates" - will be considered in the next post ("The charm defensive - part 2").

Enjoy your new role, experiences and lifestyle in-house!

27 October, 2006 10:42  
Blogger the angry bee said...

Way to go SS! Will you tell us what you're going to do with your time? I hope you're still going to maintain this site...

I recently had a spat with my law firm regarding my leave entitlements. Firstly, the sick leave entitlements provided were under the minimum required by the new Work Choices law, which made the firm in breach of the law - with potentially serious consequences. When I pointed this out, instead of being grateful that I had saved them the embarrassment of fronting before the Office of Workplace Services, the partner who "dabbles" in the area did some blatant butt-covering and the issue was swept under the carpet.

Then, when I sought repayment of the sick days I had had to take as leave without pay, the aforementioned dabbling partner did some speedy calculations and advised that on the days I wanted to claim sick leave I had only been entitled to 0.578 and 0.923 days of sick leave respectively - so they wouldn't pay those days.

Oh, and that annual leave I was asking for next year? I would have to take 8 days of that as leave without pay too. Tough titties.

I was pretty upset not so much by the outcome, but more by the way in which I had been treated. My morale was low, and I felt that both my supervising partner and the partner who had decreed my entitlements needed to know the impact these kind of decisions had on staff - and would even be grateful for receiving such information, as the most useful tool in managing people well is good communication.

More fool me.

Half hour after I wrote my email my supervising partner (who is in fact a lovely guy) came in and told me (with some attempts at comforting fluff): kiddo, them's the breaks - if you're a real lawyer, and you want a real legal career, you can't afford to get upset about these things and make a fuss.

This partly reflects the nature of my supervising partner, who is generally a lay-low kinda guy.

However, it is also part of the law firm culture endorsed by all those in the senior ranks: Put up and shut up.

I feel that since my email "outburst" (as it was so-termed), there is a strong possibility that the general opinion of me amongst senior staff at my firm would be that I am "difficult" and a "troublemaker".

Now I might have cared about that - if I actually cared what any ofo them thought about anything. However, since the above events, I have increasingly found that I do not care - not about them, or the firm, or indeed many of my clients. For why would I care about them, when they don't care about me?

The problem is that I am [trying to be] adament that I will remain in the law - because this kind of culture is self-perpetuating. If people like me leave because they can't take it anymore, the only the people left will be those who are like the partners - and so the cycle will continue.

So, in short - SS, I hope you will find some way to stay in the law - because we desperately need more people like you to rise to the top.

27 October, 2006 10:46  
Blogger Legal Eagle said...

Congratulations, Shop Steward! I guess your draft resignation letter moved from its draft status. What I want to know is whether your resignation letter was indeed signed off "Hugs and kisses"???

When I resigned from my last firm, morale was so low that no one even blinked an eyelid. They all said they were sorry to see me go, but they could understand why I had resigned to take another opportunity. It was quite weird.

When I went back and visited a few months ago, I enjoyed catching up with a couple of my old bosses. I like them as people, I just don't like law firms.

27 October, 2006 11:33  
Blogger Legal Eagle said...

Oh, I second the comments of angry bee. I'm still in the law, just not in the law firm. But I think good people need to stick at it because otherwise there's no chance for change.

27 October, 2006 11:35  
Blogger Shop Steward said...

Angry Bee, you describe a place lacking in respect for its employees, a culture of cutting corners when it comes to employee rights. For this reason, among others (or, should I say, inter alia, I have chosen to leave the law. In short, I find my work neither inspiring on a grand scale nor enjoyable on a daily basis.

So I leave even though I do not yet have a "Plan B" in place. I am leaping into the unknown. It is possible that I will be posting to this site as an ex-lawyer from a villa on the Mediterranean in six months' time. That wouldn't, I imagine, be the worst case scenario.

My notice period, as I mentioned in my post, runs for three months. I still have plenty to say in that time and, over the past five months, the JLU has received significant positive feedback imploring us to keep fighting the good fight. Consequently, I do intend to maintain this site indefinitely.

31 October, 2006 00:12  
Blogger Shop Steward said...

Legal Eagle, my final flourish was replacing "Hugs and Kisses" with "Yours sincerely". The alternative - "yours faithfully" - would, of course, have been an outright lie.

31 October, 2006 00:15  
Anonymous finalyear said...

Best of luck with your next move. Looking forward to the next three months of posts.

31 October, 2006 22:45  
Blogger Regular Lawyer said...

Shop Steward, congratulations on your resignation, your fans are pleased that you will continue to post and fight the good fight.

While you're trying to decide what to do for the rest of your life, please take a moment to consider an alternative fight that we need to have. That is, the fight against arrogance in lawyers and general smug gittishness amongst the junior solicitor population. You no doubt experienced this particular type of lawyer in your (ex-) employment. Patronus sans Magnificus (lawyers without pomp) is representing Joe and Jane lawyers who like to spend their weekends doing normal stuff, and not saving the world.

Regular Lawyer encourages young lawyers who aren't tools to join this fight by visiting regularlawyer.blogspot.com and signing up as a member.

06 November, 2006 17:53  
Blogger Shop Steward said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

11 December, 2006 12:49  
Blogger Shop Steward said...

Didn't realise I had "fans", RL!

Best of luck with the pomp-free lawyers. Knowing as many lawyers as I do, sounds like an uphill battle to me! :-)

11 December, 2006 13:56  

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