Our readers are certainly aware of the compensation/personal life trade-off involved in taking a high-paying law firm job. Salaries go up, but so do the billable hours. Building a Better Legal Profession, a group we have discussed in these pages before, is working to change that.
The group gets a nice shout-out in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times:
Young associates at many firms rarely see the inside of a courtroom and get little feedback on their performance. On top of that is the crushing pressure to make partner — a status awarded to a small percentage of associates after years of toil that can mean stratospheric incomes but also a lifetime of weekends and evenings in the office.
So last year [Stanford law student Andrew] Bruck and about 25 other Stanford students founded Building a Better Legal Profession, which is aimed at forcing law firms to change the way they hire and promote young lawyers.
Among the students’ concerns about the legal profession’s future are inefficient work habits, widespread unhappiness, and deteriorating mental health. While ATL may contribute to the first, we hope we’re helping you fight off the latter two.
More discussion, after the jump.
There were many good things about the 80s, from A-Ha to Molly Ringwald movies, but we think the decade’s average billable hours tops the list:
To keep profits growing, law firms can either “put more hamsters in the wheel or increase the number of hours the hamsters are running,” said [Professor Michele Landis] Dauber, who advises the Stanford group.
Associates at many major firms are expected to bill 2,200 to 2,500 hours a year, she said, compared with an average of 1,700 hours in 1980. Add in work time lawyers can’t bill and many are toiling 60 to 70 hours every week, she noted.
That crushing schedule requires sacrificing everything for the chance to become partner even as the odds of achieving that goal become longer. Absent flexible schedules and hands-on guidance from firm elders, minority lawyers and young mothers increasingly drop out after a few years.
“The female hamsters are leaving the cage or getting flung from the wheel,” Dauber said.
Female hamsters are happier on some wheels than on others.
The article closes with a nice little blind item:
Students have “an enormous amount of market power,” [said Stanford 1L Davida Brook]. Brook, who hopes to join a large firm when she graduates, now asks recruiters what they’re doing to retain women and minorities.
Some of those questions have been met with awkward silence, she said, recalling one recruiter who touted the firm’s special “diversity week” to a student audience this year. When one student asked for details on the week’s activities, the recruiter paused, then volunteered that the firm had screened the movie “Crash,” an examination of racial tensions in Los Angeles.
Free in-house movie screenings? Now THAT is something that would improve associate quality of life. Will there be popcorn?
Law students make appeal for change [Los Angeles Times]