Law in Contemporary Society

Fixing the Legal Profession

-- By HoangTruong? - 14 Feb 2008


The horrendous attrition rates of big law firms in recent years have been well chronicled and documented. The big law firm business model, the argument goes, depends on this attrition rate to keep profits per partner high and the overall success of the firm itself. However, with Generation Y’s increasingly disparate emphasis on work/life balance rather than traditional measures of a law firm job like prestige or salary, law firms must adapt in order to remain successful enterprises.

II. Work and Hours

The most common complaint of associates is the length of their work day coupled with work that seems meaningless to them. As with all occupations and professions, professional satisfaction for lawyers often comes from engaging in meaningful work that they enjoy, rather than from their bi-monthly check that pays the bills and for the nice things in life. Thus, the first step in improving quality of life for associates is to simply delegate more meaningful work from the partner’s desk to incoming associates. By hiring less associates and investing in a more intensified on the job training program, law firms will be able to lower their attrition rate and produce better lawyers. Thus, by taking away the feeling of helplessness and uselessness that many incoming associates feel, law firms can increase the level of work satisfaction amongst its employees.

Likewise, if law firms reduced the amount of hours worked by associates, the worker satisfaction would increase tenfold. Worker burnout would occur less frequently and thus would help reduce the trend of high turnover rates at large law firms. To reduce amount of hours, firms should do away with the billable hour requirements and instead provide graduated bonuses for the lawyers that work more than others. By replacing a minimum billable hour requirement to qualify for a set bonus with a graduated system, associates would be rewarded proportionally to their effort and time spent. This would likely create a much more satisfactory working environment in even the most cutthroat firms.

III. Hiring the Right Students in the First Place

The next step that would help law firms retain more associates is to just use different criteria in hiring them in the first place. Drastically reducing the amount of emphasis on law school grades while similarly focusing on social interaction skills, personality types, and general ability to relate with clients would make incoming classes much more useful to the firm. By hiring these associates based on a wider variety of factors, a law firm can recruit a more diverse class of incoming associates. Similarly, if all law firms would agree structure their summer programs simply a preview of what’s to come rather than an extended vacation, students would be able to discern for ourselves where we actually want to work. With so little effort being made on both sides to find a true fit, it is no wonder that law students often end up jumping from firm to firm, and from practice area to practice area.

IV. What is Needed for Real Industry-wide Reform

After all this however, the most important thing law firms need to do in taking a step in the right direction is structure a comprehensive and clear strategic plan acknowledging that there is an inherent problem with the way the current business model is ran. By acknowledging the flaws in the plan, the firm can signal to its partners, associates, and incoming graduating law students that the firm recognizes that the current model for big law firms isn’t the only successful business plan.

However, in order for a real industry wide reform to occur, both law firms and the law students they covet must agree in principle to further the quality of the lives of lawyers. If firm A decides to cut its required hours and at the same time lowers starting salaries to compensate for the loss of income, then the presence of other firms that pay a much higher starting salary will undermine Firm A’s effort to improve the quality of life for its associates. Likewise, if given a choice between a slightly higher paying job with long unmanageable hours and a slightly lower paying job with manageable hours, law students should find it in themselves to make the personal choice that would actually given them satisfaction with their job.

Since the natural nature of both law students and law firms is competitive, it very difficult to imagine a cooperative, uniform effort to lower both revenue and starting salaries to improve the prospects of the legal profession in the long run. Thus, unless a mandate by the ABA or some similar national organization forces the hand of law firms and law students alike, it is quite realistic to expect that the legal profession would stay in its current model of doing business; increasing attrition rates and the big law firms’ attempts at keeping associates by increasing starting salaries seem to be here to stay.

  • I can think of no definition of the "professions" that includes laboring at games. Basketball players, like other compensated athletes, are sweated workers who are paid high wages.

  • No, the labor markets are not alike. Schoolyards are full of poor children falsely believing that they have a chance to become highly-paid, short-lived athletic stars. They are not full of poor children studying hard in order to become lawyers. The primary source of the deception is societal over-interest in athletics. Such as the interest you are showing now, which is helping others behind you not to follow you on the road to law school.

  • This comparison is literally puerile. Analogy's purpose is to find deep similarities that illuminate mechanism, not to provide superficial correspondences. If you had something to say about how to reorganize law firms you wouldn't need to waste four hundred words on how the very different businesses that are basketball teams in a league should be governed. Fan radio ranting has no role to play here. The route to improvement is to start again without the analogy and develop the idea concerning the primary subject of inquiry.

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r6 - 12 Jan 2009 - 22:58:24 - IanSullivan
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