Law in Contemporary Society
I found this article that discusses a lot of the issues with big law private practice that Eben has been discussing. I know that Eben doesn't like people posting links without their own thoughts and comments so I'll try to add some later this weekend when I'm done with moot court stuff. However, most of it isn't stuff that people don't know - it's more stuff that people have trouble really believing and internalizing until it's too late. I think it's very well written, doesn't beat around the bush, and is really worth reading, no matter what kind of law you're interested in at the moment. Anyway, enjoy:

-- JosephItkis - 10 Feb 2012

Out of the many depressing facts and statistics about this profession that is possible to address, one really stuck out to me: “[The] study also found that, although 70% of attorneys are permitted to take more than two weeks of vacation every year, only 48% actually do so.” I think a big part of Judge Schiltz’s reason for this is: “Big firm lawyers are, on the whole, a remarkably insecure and competitive group of people. Many of them have spent almost their entire lives competing to win games that other people have set up for them.” I wholeheartedly agree with this point; insecurity breeds competition. And rather than helping ease our insecurities as aspiring lawyers, I think law school heightens them to a level that makes us doubt our talents. To me, this is all because law school is viewed as a competition. I didn’t was even three weeks into law school before my legal methods professor mentioned that we were in law school to compete against our classmates. Why is it necessary for law school to be structure as a competition, though? I don’t understand how viewing my classmates as competitors enriches my learning experience here or better prepares me, for better or worse, working at a law firm. If anything, shouldn’t the business school be more of a competition among students? Instead, business school seems to be more about networking than anything else. But a big part of being a lawyer is also working with clients, so why isn’t the networking aspect incorporated into law school? And shouldn’t business school be more of a competition since business is all about working in an adversarial setting? I mean, I guess this would apply to those of us who want to be trial lawyers and be in a courtroom all the time. But in most other environments, take non profit, big law or in house type work as an example, lawyers still have to work in teams and collaborate. Collaboration – isn’t that what all law firms are saying that they do? I see the word in brochures and websites of these law firms, so evidently it means something to our profession. But the law school’s structure is to do anything but collaborate. I still haven’t found someone to enlighten me and tell me how the competition factor in law school will make us better lawyers.

Moving on, this was also another great thought: “If you let your law firm or clients define success for you, they will define it in a way that is in their interest, not yours. It is important for them that your primary motivation be making money and that, no matter how much money you make, your primary motivation continue to be making money. If you end up as an unhappy or unethical attorney, money will most likely be at the root of your problem.” I think the only way to fight against this pressure of others defining of success is again to know who we are before go too deep into one career path. I won’t harp on the money issue so much because I’m still trying to reconcile that with my own personal and career goals. Besides, I don’t have a desire to judge people based on decisions influenced by money because I respect and can identify with people who are in the delicate situation of having to or feeling pressured to provide for their family.

-- LizzieGomez - 10 Feb 2012

Lizzie I think you made an excellent point about backwardness of business schools teaching collaboration and law schools teaching competition. One of the biggest ways I have felt law school is not preparing me to work in the real world is by not giving me practice in collaborating with the other great minds around me - to develop both networking skills and practical experience working in a group. Last semester during finals I kept lamenting (some might have called it whining) the fact that I was not going to be able to take my finals with my study group. I worked at a big law firm before coming to school and there was not one brief submitted, not one motion filed, not one mail distribution prepared, without at least two people working on the project. Correction: two lawyers. Nevermind the paralegals, conference services employees, copy center employees, etc. assisting with the work as well. Why is the school so scared about letting us collaborate with each other?

-- SkylarPolansky - 10 Feb 2012

Thank you for posting this article, Joseph. I agree with you that these are problems that we are aware of but have difficulty internalizing (or unwillingness to internalize).

One passage that stood out to me was: "Law students and young lawyers have to stop seeing workaholism as "a badge of honor." 285 They have to stop talking with admiration about lawyers who bill 2500 hours per year. Attorneys whose lives are consumed with work--who devote endless hours to making themselves and their clients wealthy, at the expense of just about everything else in their lives--are not heroes. And that is true whether the lawyers are workaholic because they truly enjoy their work or because they crave wealth or because they are terribly insecure. At best, these attorneys are people with questionable priorities. At worst, they are immoral. There are certainly better lawyers after which to pattern your professional life."

This reminded me of the following excerpt from a Vault Guide interview with a law firm partner:

"What advice would you give future lawyers worried about balancing work and outside commitments?

Forget about this notion of balance. Throw yourself into your professional career with all of your heart, mind, and soul. I have people who tell me, “I don’t want to live like you live. I want a life!” And I think to myself, what is a life? I’ve got the most interesting life anybody could have. Sometimes I even ask them what they want to do, and they say, “I want to go take a walk in the woods.” And I tell them, “Who the hell wants to go walk in the woods?” I can’t imagine I would ever knowingly choose to go walk in the woods when I’ve got so many interesting things to do in the office.

That doesn't mean I didn’t realize early on that it was important to attend my children’s swimming meets and school plays and their birthday parties. But hopefully the lesson I taught my kids was not that I loved to go camping with them on the week- ends, but that I was totally engaged with what I did with my life. I never went camping with my father; I don’t even remember ever going to a baseball game with my father. But my father was totally, completely engaged in his professional life, and that image was very much ingrained." Vault Guide Q&A with Law Firm Leaders.

My initial reaction when I first read this interview was, "Is this a joke?" But I did catch myself for a moment considering this absolute dedication to work as an admirable approach to life. When I read it again, I felt really bad for the guy. Maybe he actually believes what he's saying and maybe he is happy, but I hope that I never have to resort to such desperate justification for my life choices.

I agree with Lizzie's comment that "rather than helping ease our insecurities as aspiring school heightens them to a level that makes us doubt our talents." I think that the proliferation of incomprehensible transcendental nonsense that we're expected to read and (pretend to) understand every day, combined with the constant lack of constructive feedback and lack of collaboration (as Skylar highlighted), leaves many of us feeling lost and defeated on a regular basis.

-- MichelleLuo - 11 Feb 2012

I agree that the 1L experience is unnecessarily competitive, but I also find it helpful from many perspectives. For example, I become more confident, as I can clearly see my progress and have a better understanding about my potential. When I'm put under pressure, it is easier to calm down and seriously think about the problems I once tried to avoid. The pressure helped me to figure out that I still want to be a lawyer, but meanwhile I’m also a daughter to my parents and a friend for my friends. Without their support, I’m nothing. This by no means suggests that I like the 1L style life, but we should probably wait until a later stage-e.g. when we have the opportunity to cooperate in upper level courses-to fairly evaluate our 1L time.

As to the partner who is so committed to work, I can understand his passion. When I worked in the firm, I always got excited when there were interesting issues to debate, and experienced enormous satisfaction when fishing difficult assignments. What I don’t understand is his confidence about the positive influence upon his son. After leaving home, I have always regretted that I spent too much time working in the firm instead of accompanying my parents and friends. The author made a good point about big law firms: their culture seeps in despite of your best intention. Sometimes associates just get confused about why they have to work so hard. It can be due to their passion for legal practice, their desire to outshine other associates, the inescapable insecure feeling, and also the habit of working long hours dating back to law school.

-- MeiqiangCui - 4 June 2012


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r6 - 22 Jan 2013 - 18:07:42 - IanSullivan
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