JLU: Junior Lawyers' Union

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

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Firm offers unexpected pay rise

I am torn today about how to report this breaking news. So let me begin with the facts and then offer two alternative analyses.


In an unexpected move, a top-tier law firm has this week advised its first and second year lawyers that they are to receive a pay rise. The firm's long-standing policy is to review junior lawyers' salaries annually on 1 July only but, citing unexpected increases in market rates, the firm has increased lawyers' annual salaries by $2,500 as of 1 January 2007.

Analysis #1

Despite the spin the firm in question has attempted to put on the pay rise, this is the same firm that we reported failed to increase salary bands in its annual pay rise in July of this year. Consequently, rather than coming six months early, the pay rise could easily be viewed as coming six months late.

Moreover, in recent months, firms generally - and this firm in particular - have suffered from especially high "attrition" rates. As we have noted previously, law firms expect to lose some staff. They budget for it. However, of late, it could fairly be said that the firm in question has been haemorrhaging talent.

Realising that it is losing good people at an alarming rate, this firm has been driven to desperate measures - offering lawyers the pay rise they should have had back in July and packaging it as an act of generosity. After all, the firm itself admits that the reason underlying the pay rise is that it had begun to lag behind prevailing top-tier market rates.

Analysis #2

The JLU recently called on law firms to stop poaching lawyers from elsewhere and start actively trying to retain them.

Having criticised firms (as recently as the latest post) for failing to adequately reward junior lawyers or ensure that they feel genuinely valued, the JLU is obliged to commend the firm in question for rising above the plummeting expectations junior lawyers have of their employers. Rather, this firm has demonstrated a degree of goodwill - sorely lacking among commercial law firms - as well, crucially, as a desire to recognise the contribution made by its junior lawyers.

I leave it to you to choose an interpretation. Or could it possibly be that a firm has begun to realise (like BP) that high employee morale can actually benefit a firm's bottom line?

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Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Grinch who stole Minters' Christmas

As a follow-up to the post on the "come straight from work" Christmas party, it is worth noting that the Hearsay column in the Legal Affairs section of yesterday's Fin Review reported that, to the chagrin of staff, Minter Ellison has cancelled its firm-wide Christmas party entirely!

Meanwhile, on the page directly opposite, the latest reported figures show Minters to be by far the largest firm in Australia. More partners and more lawyers than any other firm in the country.

What is it with law firms and morale? They just don't get it, do they?

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Friday, December 15, 2006

The research he was born to perform

You have got to be kidding me. Check out the name of the expert quoted in this article, part of which is reproduced below. Is it April 1st already?

(With the exception of the obvious joke about them all being d*ckheads, I know this has nothing to do with lawyers. But then, from the end of next week, neither will I.)

Male circumcision halves HIV infection rates
December 14, 2006 - 11:47AM

Circumcising men cuts their risk of being infected with the AIDS virus in half, and could prevent hundreds of thousands or even millions of new infections, researchers say.

Circumcising men worked so well that the researchers stopped two large clinical trials in Kenya and Uganda to announce the results today, although they cautioned that the procedure does not make men immune to the virus.

Public health leaders hailed the results as pointing to a potentially powerful way to reduce HIV infections in Africa, the continent hardest hit by AIDS.

"It does have the potential to prevent many tens of thousands, many hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions of infections over coming years," Dr. Kevin De Cock, director of the World Health Organisation's Department of HIV/AIDS, told reporters.

Makes sense, I guess, to ask de cock what he dinks about de circumcision.


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Christmas minefield

It's Christmas party season and, all around the Jesus/Santa-worshipping world, law firm employees are getting drunk and telling each other what they really think of one another.

As a general rule, whether this involves "You knowwww, I've always secretly rooly loiked youuu" or "Jusht becaushhh you're faaat and ug-ly, doesn't mean you havta be a BITCH as well", in the cold hard light of the following day, discretion would almost certainly have proven the better part of valour. This is one area where truth offers little defence.

Actions that may have appeared heroic after an evening of having your glass regularly topped up will almost invariably not seem so clever when you find yourself staring at the object of your affection/loathing at your weekly workgroup meeting on Monday morning.

Leaving aside the vitriolic side of things for the time being, there is a genuine question here. Since hitting on your workmates is a clear and distinct no-no, what do you do when you have spent the entire year lusting after someone you work with?

Those of us without superhero good looks may easily be tempted to view the Christmas party, where everyone (including the colleague you've spent all year checking out) lets go of their inhibitions, as the opportunity to make our feelings known. Of course, when this ends in rejection, you've ruined everyone's night. And possibly just committed sexual harassment.

This can hit pretty hard and I imagine that Friday nights in December are peak season for suicide watch on the Harbour Bridge or the West Gate. I distinctly remember one colleague storming out of an after-party, cursing girls generally and threatening (albeit in jest) to top himself.

Then again, sometimes the only thing worse than being rejected is not being rejected. Apart from the standard morning-after "Oh no... I did what with who?" that I associate more with being a teenager, the workplace Christmas party offers the potential for a whole new dimension of regret.

Consequently (and in order to protect their own arses from sexual harassment liability), in recent years, firms have adopted the practice of sending around sexual harassment "reminder" emails in the days leading up to the firm Christmas party.

Back when I was a vacation clerk, on the morning of the firm Christmas party, an office-wide email came around "on behalf of" the Managing Partner from his secretary, gently turning our minds to the sexual harassment policies and suggesting everyone "look out for one another".

As things transpired, one interpretation of events later that evening is that the (married) Managing Partner and his (married) secretary were closely "looking out for one another" on the sticky dance floor of the after-party bar. Nice work.

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Come as you are

We received details of our firm Christmas party a little while ago.

Some of us were looking forward to a theme and the potential to dress up - Pirates of the Caribbean perhaps, possibly 1920s gangsters or even come as your favourite Justice of the High Court. (I would've gotten stuck into the bean salad and come as Windeyer J.)

Then we saw the invitation. It read (in part):

Time: 7pm
Dress: business attire
Location: [venue immediately around the corner from the office]

In other words, "We've arranged it so that you can come straight from work. You don't even have to get changed. That way you can stay at work until 6.45."


Talk about squeezing every last drop.


Monday, December 11, 2006

Comments temporarily lost in the ether

Apologies to all JLU members and readers who left comments over the past few weeks. They appear to have been caught in some sort of blogger ether. I wondered for a while why everyone had gone so quiet.

The JLU site has just been switched over to "beta" (whatever that means - is "beta" better than "alpha" or is alpha what I'm aspiring to?) - and the comments suddenly appeared out of nowhere.

Now that they have belatedly been published, I will go through them and, where applicable, offer a response. I can make such promises because, since I'm finishing up next week, I now have virtually no work. How luxurious!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Smelling the roses, and the law that does nothing

When I resigned back in October, I agreed to serve out my contractual notice period of three months. What I was really hoping for by giving such an unnaturally long period of notice was for my workload to diminish to the point where there was no reason to keep me around, at which time the firm would suggest I enjoy a period of "gardening leave".

This, of course, was pure fantasy.

"Gardening leave", for those unfamiliar with the expression, involves being sent home (notionally to tend to your garden) on full pay for the remainder of one's notice period. It is not an uncommon practice among corporations that wish to prevent executives from working for a competitor but, I dare say, it is completely unheard of in relation to junior lawyers.

The weeks immediately following my resignation were possibly the busiest I've had, as the firm excised its juiciest pound of flesh yet while I remained a captive employee. Since then, however, things have quietened down and I've had a chance to ponder various schemes for getting myself sent on gardening leave for my last month or so.

Then I spotted my sick leave balance. I have almost 20 days of personal leave accumulated. Man, that's four weeks. I could basically take off a month for some cosmetic surgery (that I so desperately need) and have the cost covered by my sick leave. (Well, maybe. What does cosmetic surgery cost these days?)

Just as I was contemplating rhinoplasty, Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews announced new laws enabling employees to cash out their personal (sick) leave. How good is that?! Instead of throwing sickies, you can just take the cash!

Admittedly, the end of the sickie would mean the demise of a long and culturally-accepted tradition, which would be decidedly un-Australian. But it sounds like a bloody good deal to me. Could it really be so?

No, of course it isn't.

Upon closer inspection, employees can cash out their personal leave down to the point where they have 15 days remaining. Ok, so I can cash out a week. Not so bad.

Well, actually, any request to exercise the right to cash out sick leave must be made in writing to your employer and is subject to your employer's agreement.

Wait a minute. So I can cash out sick leave if my employer wants me to? In other words, the firm will give me money if it feels like it. What are the odds of that?

Upon learning of the new law, one partner here put it best: "Why on earth would any employer agree to that?"


Thanks very much Mr Andrews. Looks like I'll be having that nose job after all.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Rudd to open the bowling, McGrath for PM

A day that shall live in infamy. And one of contrasting lessons.

A Fairfax/ACNielsen poll comes out showing ALP leads the Coalition by a whopping 56-44. Yet, ignoring its yawning 12 point lead and displaying both utter short-sightedness and irrefutable evidence that it has forgotten how to win, federal caucus decides it's time for a change. Beazley out, Rudd in.

Meanwhile, at the Adelaide Oval, Australia fights a rearguard action to save the second Ashes Test. Why? Because England has declared on 551 after the three-and-a-half man Australian bowling attack could only manage six wickets in two days of cricket.

Example 1: A team so used to losing that change seems the only way to win.
Example 2: A team so used to winning that change would only rock the boat.

Having been to four of the five Ashes Tests in England in 2005, your loyal Shop Steward learnt some lessons from that fateful tour and stated last week that an unfit McGrath had no place in the team for the second Test. Moreover, an Australia without McGrath, having made 10/800+ on its previous outing, would need five bowlers on the flat Adelaide track more than the extra batsman. Consequently, I proposed the following line-up:
1. Langer
2. Hayden (with Phil Jaques to play the third Test if Hayden failed against England again)
3. Ponting
4. Martyn
5. Hussey
6. Gilchrist (with Haddin potentially ready to go by the fourth Test)
7. Lee (better batsman than Warne)
8. Warne
9. Bracken (better variety to complement Lee and Clark)
10. Clark
11. MacGill

Unfortunately, however, the Australian selectors opted to stay with the same team - including a hobbled Glenn McGrath - while the parliamentary Labor party opted for change and dumped the man I consider to be the best Prime Minister Australia's never had.

Though frustrated, I'll continue to support the Australian cricket team. I'm not so sure about the ALP.

The JLU does not insist upon uniformity of opinion and the above reflects only the views of Shop Steward and not the JLU as a whole. That said, you can rest assured that there will be no leadership spill at the JLU.

Sunday, December 03, 2006


So the summer's first batch of doe-eyed vacation clerks has arrived and they are currently doing their thing at firms around the nation.

"Their thing" broadly entails:
(a) nodding over-zealously and looking far too interested when engaged in conversation;
(b) pretending to anyone who'll listen that they're desperate to become life-long commercial lawyers;
(c) displaying an abject inability to distinguish between the people who have the final say as to whether they end up with articles and the people who clean the toilets; and
(d) drinking.

As a result of the above, you'll easily be able to identify the vacation clerks at your firm. They're the ones standing in the library, earnestly telling a research assistant how much they enjoyed Equity and how fascinating they found Corporations Law.

Most of all, though, the vacation clerks are distinguishable from the sullen rest of the firm because they still possess that sweet bird of youth long since extinguished in everyone else. We others are worn down by day upon wearying day of air conditioned offices, fluorescent lighting and constant brow furrowing. In contrast, the vacation clerks glide around looking decidedly nubile.

A few other brief observations about vacation clerks:

1. They're uni students so they wear the same suit every day for four weeks. Thus, while they might be better looking than us, we're far more sophisticated.

2. Older partners often find much amusement in chortling, "Having looked over your profiles, if I were applying for articles now, I'd never have got a job here. Ha ha ha."
That's because, in addition to supreme marks and extensive co-curricular involvement, each clerk is now expected to have saved the world at least twice by the age of 21. And most have too. (Or at least that's what their CVs say.) Such breadth of experience is ideal preparation, of course, for a year or two of discovery.

3. HR conveners of vacation clerk events appear to have assumed that entertaining the vacation clerks involves plying them with vast quantities of alcohol. Every event includes drinks. This approach may hold some appeal for the battle-hardened lawyer masses who leap at opportunities to drown our sorrows but the vacation clerks seem to know better. Shame really. They'd be so much more entertaining completely sozzled.