JLU: Junior Lawyers' Union

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

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

What are we afraid of?

Better not leave before 6pm. Better not leave before this gets done. Better not tell the partner that you and your (soon to be ex) girlfriend/boyfriend have dinner plans and tickets for a show tonight. Better not stand up for yourself.

Better not? Why not? Why not, comrade?

The greatest magic of law firms is how they manage to compel obedience from their junior lawyers without any defined threat. It is simply a vague pressure: the law firm "culture". That's just the way things are.

But why? What if they aren't? What happens then?

Let's look at the end game. What are the carrots and sticks?


In most Australian law firms, in contrast to US firms, bonuses (whether discretionary or based on achieving certain targets) are non-existent. Likewise, salary banding doesn't usually kick in until at least third year, by which time you could've had three good years billing 80 hour months while your mate bills 200 hours a month and walks away with the exact same salary. So forget the financial incentive.


If you genuinely and desperately aspire to climb the greasy pole to senior associateship and partnership, you're not reading this blog. But, in any case, it's roughly five years to senior associateship and five more to partnership. So, at the very least, you can bum around for three, get your act together by the time you get to third year and still cruise into senior associateship by impressing with your new-found enthusiasm and "can do" attitude.

For most JLU members, however, junior lawyerdom is not a stepping stone to greater heights of drudgery and paper shuffling. The majority of junior lawyers flee law firms before promotion to senior associate becomes an issue. So the threat that, somewhere distant down the track, you will be passed over for what is effectively the worst job in the firm - and certainly not one for which you hold any aspiration - is no threat at all.

Disciplinary measures

No lawyer actually knows of any lawyer being fired for poor performance.

Sure, stories abound of how unnamed lawyers have been quietly informed that they are unlikely to progress to senior associate or else have found themselves "managed out" by having their workload dried up. But is that a threat?

Might get boring - but it's not exactly like you're a fast-talking movie cop being taken off the beat and assigned to a desk job (the ultimate movie cop punishment). No, sir. Yours *is* a desk job. And reading the paper certainly beats due diligence. Or you could even start a blog.

References / Reputation

Most law firms inexplicably have a policy of not permitting partners or senior associates to provide departing lawyers with written references. So you can work your rear off for years and years and leave with... well... nothing. Or you can slovenly waltz in and out during daylight hours and leave with... nothing.

In any case, if you want a verbal reference, just make sure you're friendly with a couple of people a year or two above you. Buy them a beer. At least one will make senior associate and will be so flattered when you ask them to act as a referee that they couldn't care less how hard you worked for the slave-driving partner.


In practice, the carrots and sticks are limited. The result is that, for the junior lawyer, there is nothing to be gained by sacrificing your personal life for the firm and there is nothing to be lost by digging your heels in.

So next time you're thinking "I'd better get this done or else...", finish the sentence.

Or else what?

In the meantime, the very vagueness of the "or else" renders junior lawyers complicit in their own subjugation. And we're supposed to be smarter than that.


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

"Or else" sound ominious howeverwhat is the worse that can happen? They can neither maim nor kill you, take your beloved or fisrt born...a simple "lift your game" and a talking to. Don't sweat the small stuff and its ALL small stuff :)

18 October, 2006 17:13  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oz Lawyers Weekly has found the average time it takes to make partner is 13 years. ugh

19 October, 2006 22:18  
Blogger Shop Steward said...

Average? I'm surprised. I would've guessed about 11-12 at big firms and 7-8 at small firms.

19 October, 2006 22:41  

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