JLU: Junior Lawyers' Union

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

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Mrs Shop Steward?

To all those who asked: no, this is not me. I would love to meet the author, though. Sounds like my soulmate.

(I'm talking about the "I loathed my 'imprisonment' in a top law firm" letter, not the "I loved my gig in the sex industry" one. But I suppose either would make for an interesting date.)

Anyone know Ms Gurner?

Monday, November 27, 2006

Lawyers accept judge's call to "get a life"

A lot of people have sent us the link to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald entitled "Judge Tells Lawyers to Get a Life".

The gist of the article - click on the link to read it yourself - is summed up in the first paragraph:

The rudeness, aggression and demands of senior lawyers are leading too many young lawyers to burn out and leave the profession disillusioned, a Supreme Court judge has warned.

The judge, Palmer J, was quoted as saying, "Just in the last month, I have heard of two young lawyers who became completely disillusioned after working for a year or so in a large firm, and have left the law for good."

I have no idea if his Honour has been reading this blog but it is apparent that a number of JLU members (and sympathisers) saw a connection. Some emailed the article to us accompanied by the suggestion that they would be looking forward to the JLU's usual incisive and cynical commentary on the state of the profession.

The fact is, however, that, since resigning, your loyal Shop Steward has mellowed. It's hard to rail angrily against a vile system you've opted out of. It's next to impossible to raise the same level of passion about an oppressive culture you're soon to be free of. Although I will continue to serve out my notice period until the end of this year, I am only present at work in body. In spirit, I am liberated.

A young lawyer quoted in the SMH article argues that the "the fact that these sorry souls are leaving the profession is merely an act of Darwinism at its purest; an act of self-selection that can only make the profession stronger."

I'm sorry to hear such stuff and nonsense from one of our own because, in truth, the exodus of junior lawyers - the creative, interesting and well-rounded ones - leaves the profession colder, harder, meaner and unhappier.

Since news of my resignation became (relatively) public knowledge, I have had - on average - two junior lawyers a day tell me either that they are envious of my impending freedom or else that they are likewise actively making plans for their own departure.

The profession is in trouble. Young lawyers are leaving, as the judge suggests, to "get a life". The solution is for firms to let them have one.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

WorkChoices here to stay

And so the bourgeois High Court has upheld the tyrannical federal government's WorkChoices legislation by a majority of 5-2. Don't say we didn't warn you.

(We actually predicted the exact result - right down to the dissenting judges - back in May.)

Monday, November 13, 2006

The charm defensive - part 2

The big firms proudly make a practice of hiring graduates they consider to be well-rounded and interesting. Sure, they must have a solid academic record. But, it is stressed, they must also have a breadth of life experiences, a variety of community or extra-curricular hobbies and they must be personable and perform well in an interview.

Then they arrive and are put in a small room with no windows and thousands of documents and are expected to spend 14 hours a day answering two questions: Privileged? Relevant?

After inflicting this mind-numbing torture on its bright young things, firms have the gall to tell their junior lawyers that the firm must always come first, that it must be the most important thing in their lives. They must abandon any outside interests - and cease being well-rounded.

God knows why the big law firms hire such interesting and creative law graduates - the best, brightest and most talented - if they intend to treat them like document drones. Perhaps it's to make sure their competitors don't get them.

Earlier this year, I was put on a matter that the senior legal support guy described as having a "100% mortality rate". Everyone who worked on it, he told me, "has either left the department, quit the firm or had a mental breakdown." Apparently there was a fairly even split in outcomes between the three categories.(1)

And so lawyers (like me) leave. They leave the big firms and they leave the profession.

On the whole, firms shrug their shoulders and call it the "natural attrition rate". The biggest firms take take 50+ graduates/ACs a year in each of their Sydney and Melbourne offices and simply expect to lose them over time. They factor this into the number they hire.

Time and time again, they talk about the most important asset of the firm - the clients. They talk about how the clients are to be treated as "God", that clients' needs must always come first.

However, there are two things without which a big firm would not exist, without which it could not function: its clients and its lawyers.

And so, with the constant stream of lawyers leaving big firms turning, in recent times, into a veritable flood, the firms have become increasingly desperate. Not to retain their lawyers, mind you, but rather to poach them from elsewhere.

I am reliably informed that one top-tier firm recently upped what it calls its "star search" reward (from what I am less reliably informed was previously the choice of a packet of chips, a weekend away for one in a Warrnambool motel or a $50 Coles Myer voucher) to a cool $10,000 for the recruitment of a suitable employee who makes it through the probationary period.

It makes you wonder: wouldn't it make more sense for the firms to keep the lawyers they spend so much time and effort hiring in the first place than to have to plug holes by pinching lawyers from other firms?

So why doesn't anyone ask "Is there anything we can do to make you stay?" before you hand in your resignation?

Privileged? No. Relevant? Yes.

(1) I, incidentally, managed to perform a Houdini-like escape from the matter by conflicting myself out of it - but that's another story for another time.