JLU: Junior Lawyers' Union

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

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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe natural selection is a fitting analogy for commercial law firms. Over time, most commercial firms naturally select a particular kind of individual. From my limited observations these people are generally a-political, a-moral, enjoy the intellectual challenge of black letter law in a vacuum and are willing to place the interests of faceless client corporations above outside of work interests and relationships. As the CEO of Allens famously and honestly said, while discussing how Allens had recently won an awared for client service, "Our lawyers are not entitled to a life outside of work."

This natural selection is both a product of the self-perpetuating and patricarchal firm culture and of the ever increasing demands of the corporate sector (which demands 'legal solutions' be available 24/7).

I don't think firms have any incentive to change. Law graduates are more desperate than ever to get their foot in the door. Sure, most leave after a few years but there is not room at the top for too many senior associates or partners. The junior lawyers burn out and are replaced. Those that remain, through natural selection, remain to keep the dominant culture alive.

Voices of dissent are of most use, not to change law firms, but to encourage young lawyers to consider other options (which might still be in the law) that will give their lives greater meaning.

06 December, 2006 10:06  
Blogger Shop Steward said...

A coherent and well-argued comment.

My response would be to say that there is no need for the law - even commercial law - to be such a cold and heartless profession, filled with those willing to sacrifice themselves on the altar of Mammon.

Why does the "dominant culture" need to be one of pressure and work to the exclusion of friends, family and leisure? It's certainly not justified by the pursuit of profit alone. (See my post on the policies adopted by BP.)

It's almost like partners are saying, "We were made to put in the hours and do it tough - so now so do you."

11 December, 2006 14:29  

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