Author Topic: Quality of life for young lawyers at firms?  (Read 5124 times)

LouLou

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Quality of life for young lawyers at firms?
« on: April 16, 2015, 09:50:33 PM »
Not quite on topic, but there are a number of lawyers here and Mustachians tend to value quality of life. 

I am a litigation associate at firm in the 150-200 attorney range. Biglaw-ish for my smaller city (Midlaw?).  Recently, a significant number of associates and younger partners left the firm - going in house, starting their own small firms, becoming permanent clerks, etc. While this is par for the course, the number has been pretty big and all at once. Someone else just resigned yesterday.

Now the higher ups are concerned because they don't want to lose more people. The firm was already trying to hire more associates.  Plus, we are landing some great work. We are already busy! I'm having lunch with two partners tomorrow - they want to check in and see how things are going.

I think this is a great opportunity to make big suggestions that could help retention and make associate lives easier. So if you were in my position, what would you suggest?

LeRainDrop

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Re: Quality of life for young lawyers at firms?
« Reply #1 on: April 16, 2015, 10:13:15 PM »
I would suggest you not "make big suggestions."  In my experience, even approaching with an open mind, those in charge are a lot less receptive to change once they hear the feedback, especially if it is ever at odds with company profits and/or shaking up carefully balanced office politics.  While some up top may be very sympathetic to your ideas, others will certainly be very opposed, and in no way do you want any of your feedback to come back to bite you.  In that way, if you are to give any suggestions, I'd keep them on the less controversial side.

If my feedback were solicited in a way that it truly would be 100% anonymous -- which the way they've approached you is not -- then I would have a whole lot more to say.  Adopt an anti-bullying policy -- no tolerance for abusive behavior.  Allow more flexible work schedules, working remotely, etc. -- not just in policy, but really get the partners to buy in so that associates are not punished for using it, especially when they are using it in a way to make their work more efficient.  Make sure maternity/paternity leave policies, vacation time, and compensation are up to par.  Is the staff supporting you as needed?  Is the firm supporting your business development efforts, both in financial support and permitting you the time to devote to them?  Do they give you billable credit for pro bono hours?  Does the firm provide adequate training to its attorneys?  Do they promote people fairly, or is there a log-jam to making partner?  Are the hours reasonable?  Does the firm adequately communicate important messages to its employees?  Is the firm adequately receptive to input from employees?  And so there we are, full circle!

Finally, if they are wondering why folks have been leaving, then they should be conducting exit interviews.  Really, they should be conducting exit interviews anyway.
« Last Edit: April 16, 2015, 10:15:47 PM by LeRainDrop »

Amesenator

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Re: Quality of life for young lawyers at firms?
« Reply #2 on: April 16, 2015, 10:46:54 PM »
Biglaw partner here - I've just finished reading a fascinating book that one of my US-based partners suggested I read (I work in China so in some ways I look at the US as an outsider), "You Raised Us, Now Work with Us" (http://www.amazon.com/You-Raised-Us-Millennials-Workplace/dp/1627225854) . It does a terrific job of explaining what Millennials are looking for in their work and in their life, their context having grown up with very attentive parents (sometimes 'helicopter'-like!) and how this contrasts with the style/expectations of the Baby Boom, which typically has accepted a work culture demanding face-time, demonstration of loyalty by working lots of hours in the office, and being very competitive and me-oriented in terms of who is responsible for success.

The legal profession is in upheaval and law firms are facing increasing competitive pressures. Figuring out how to attract and retain talent is a key aspect of maintaining a firm's success in the very tough legal services market. Medium- large-sized law firms are typically managed by people from the front end of the Baby Boom, who are now starting to approach retirement age. This juncture presents an opportunity for forward-thinking firms to ponder how to reconfigure their culture/work-style to meet new generational expectations. So, when you meet, you might inquire as to the partners' perception of what role generational shift is playing in some of the recent departures and whether there is interest in exploring the firm's ability to position itself as 'getting' those issues in a way that will enable it to attract and retain top talent, as well as clients that will increasingly be managed and led by Millenials. In other words, I wouldn't approach the discussion as their needing to give up something to satisfy 'quality of life' issues for younger lawyers (which is often how these conversations go), but rather how an ability to tackle wider generational shifting thinking about the work place can make them more competitive and successful.

Good luck and let us know how it goes!

IllusionNW

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Re: Quality of life for young lawyers at firms?
« Reply #3 on: April 16, 2015, 11:24:46 PM »
I'm an associate at a law firm that sounds similar in size/geography to yours.  A couple of years ago, they asked us to complete a survey about what we wanted.  They took that feedback and actually implemented a lot of it.  I'm really proud of the work that they did and I'm hoping that it will help with associate retention.  A lot of the things are at the leading edge of law firm work/life balanced and I'm hoping that it will mean we keep my talented colleagues. 

The one that excites me the most is the parental leave policy (which I hope to use at some point).  But there are a bunch of others like working remotely and flexible schedules.  One thing that I would love but no major law firm that I've ever heard of has done is matching 401(k) contributions.  That would make me super happy.

Lyssa

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Re: Quality of life for young lawyers at firms?
« Reply #4 on: April 17, 2015, 02:20:44 AM »
Associate with US firm in Germany here. In my experience the partners are not yet ready for honest feedback. We are doing exit interviews and some people have been honest in those. Yet part-time requests, sabaticals, home office time etc. are still being denied frequently. A male associate taking two months parental leave (out of 12 that he could take...) has just been told to take care to not let his skills get rusty...

It does not hurt enough yet for some adaption to happen.

I second leraindrop's warning. Being honest might come back to bite you. Sorry amesenator...
« Last Edit: April 17, 2015, 05:46:52 AM by Lyssa »

chasesfish

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Re: Quality of life for young lawyers at firms?
« Reply #5 on: April 17, 2015, 05:29:52 AM »
I'm not in BigLaw, but have a job that interacts a lot with BigLaw and Big Accounting firms.  My industry however has the same issue here:

There's a generational change/gap going on:  The "old school" mentality was someone needed to bust their rear end for 5,10,15 years based on the promise of a future promotion, partnership, or profit sharing. 

The 35 and under generation has watched two recessions, layoffs, and are generally a little more frugal.  They are willing to choose time and interesting work over money. 

Two years ago, I watched one of my friends in a mid-size accounting firm shock all the partners telling them he was quitting to do nothing for a while.  He had worked there for 12 years without making partner was tired of killing himself every spring and every September and not participating in the upside.  It got to the point where he decided partner wasn't something he ever wanted.

A second left and went into corporate, then the firm slowly implemented some of the reforms he (and others in the past had) professionally recommended in the exit interview and is back with the firm 2 years later. 

There's a significant financial reality the older partners have to understand:  If they DON'T reform, there's no value in the firm because there's no one to sell it to.


mak1277

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Re: Quality of life for young lawyers at firms?
« Reply #6 on: April 17, 2015, 07:01:53 AM »
I'm not in BigLaw, but have a job that interacts a lot with BigLaw and Big Accounting firms.  My industry however has the same issue here:

There's a generational change/gap going on:  The "old school" mentality was someone needed to bust their rear end for 5,10,15 years based on the promise of a future promotion, partnership, or profit sharing. 

The 35 and under generation has watched two recessions, layoffs, and are generally a little more frugal.  They are willing to choose time and interesting work over money. 

Two years ago, I watched one of my friends in a mid-size accounting firm shock all the partners telling them he was quitting to do nothing for a while.  He had worked there for 12 years without making partner was tired of killing himself every spring and every September and not participating in the upside.  It got to the point where he decided partner wasn't something he ever wanted.

A second left and went into corporate, then the firm slowly implemented some of the reforms he (and others in the past had) professionally recommended in the exit interview and is back with the firm 2 years later. 

There's a significant financial reality the older partners have to understand:  If they DON'T reform, there's no value in the firm because there's no one to sell it to.

Big 4 Accounting vet here....and this is definitely a problem.  The issue that I see, though, is that it's a vicious cycle.  People want to work less than their older predecessors did.  That's all well and good, but the volume of work isn't being reduced, so the Firms are required to hire more people to do the same work...driving profits down.  When profits go down fewer people are admitted to the partnership, and the overall "partner track" lengthens.  When I started, if you put you head down and kicked ass, you could feel reasonably good about making partner in 12-13 years.  Now that timeline is more like 15-16....which is an awfully tough sell, even though the payback is extremely good if you make it.

LouLou

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Re: Quality of life for young lawyers at firms?
« Reply #7 on: April 17, 2015, 07:22:11 AM »
Thanks for the input! I think the firm is pretty good about obtaining feedback. The firm regularly has anonymous surveys, there are meetings to inform associates about the firm's goals and financials, etc.

My personal wishlist of changes have nothing to do with quality of life.  For example, because of the nature of our clients and the large stakes of our cases, there are litigation associates who make it all the way to partner without ever first or second chairing a jury trial - there are always lots of grumbles like that. Having a few clients with routine, low volume cases (think personal injury defense for big box stores) would give associates the chance to get real experience, which would help them gain more responsibility with bigger clients. Or requiring every associate to handle one low- or pro-bono case per year to get the experience of litigating a case solo.

That said, work/life balance is huge reason why people leave firms - smart, hardworking people who are great attorneys. We need them to stay! That is why I'm asking the hive.

So, when you meet, you might inquire as to the partners' perception of what role generational shift is playing in some of the recent departures and whether there is interest in exploring the firm's ability to position itself as 'getting' those issues in a way that will enable it to attract and retain top talent, as well as clients that will increasingly be managed and led by Millenials. In other words, I wouldn't approach the discussion as their needing to give up something to satisfy 'quality of life' issues for younger lawyers (which is often how these conversations go), but rather how an ability to tackle wider generational shifting thinking about the work place can make them more competitive and successful.

This is a great way to frame the conversation.

Yet part-time requests, sabaticals, home office time etc. are still being denied frequently. A male associate taking two months parental leave (out of 12 that he could take...) has just been told to take care to not let his skills get rusty...


This is such a great point. Policies don't matter if the culture doesn't match up.


The 35 and under generation has watched two recessions, layoffs, and are generally a little more frugal.  They are willing to choose time and interesting work over money. 


I think is the biggest difference between me and older lawyers. Back in the day, if you were a white male with the right personality willing to sacrifice time outside of work, you could make partner. And there would be work for you. And you had a stay at home wife to make sure you were clothed and fed properly.

Now, long term clients can destroy a practice group any second by taking their work in house or changing to a smaller firm with lower rates. And attorneys aren't willing to miss their kids whole childhood when the firm could implode with little prior warning.

I will never feel 100% secure in my job, no matter how great things are going. I saw too many market contractions, too many layoffs. I can bill a million hours a year and tick every associate box, but if the finances don't happen to be aligned when I'm the correct number of years out of law school, I won't make partner. While I'm willing to work hard for a long time to make partner (I want FI, but not RE), I'm not going to destroy my entire personal life for it.

Krnten

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Re: Quality of life for young lawyers at firms?
« Reply #8 on: April 17, 2015, 07:51:45 AM »
This is such an important discussion to have and I hope it goes well.  When I graduated law school most of my friends went to nyc/DC biglaw.  It was horrible.  The hours have been punishing.  One by one they've left.  Now, 8 years later, I can think of only 3 or so, of at least 10, who've managed to stick it out.  And those three are having escapist fantasies too;  one wants to start a custom travel service, one wants to start a firm in rural Montana, one just wants to do nothing.  It makes me wonder who's staying!

YTProphet

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Re: Quality of life for young lawyers at firms?
« Reply #9 on: April 17, 2015, 08:07:32 AM »
I think the tandem of partner greed and unrealistic client expectations (driven by technology) are the big drivers of associate dissatisfaction.

Partners are under this delusion that they put in the time when they were younger, so associates now should put in time as well. That line of thinking is delusional because, while I'm sure they put in long hours when they were younger, firm life has never been so demanding as it is now. Partners in charge didn't live under the iron-fisted rule of technology when they were associates. Thirty years ago, they weren't chain to mobile devices that make them accessible at all hours of the day. Client expectations vis-a-vis response time are insane these days due to technology, and partners didn't have to live with that when they were younger.

Plus, partners are greedy and want to squeeze every dollar they can out of their associates, and they don't see that their greed will continue to come at the cost of losing associates because the associates are getting burned out earlier in their careers. People my age (30) don't want to work the grueling hours that are required AND deal with response time stress.


Lyssa

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Re: Quality of life for young lawyers at firms?
« Reply #10 on: April 17, 2015, 08:58:41 AM »

Partners are under this delusion that they put in the time when they were younger, so associates now should put in time as well. That line of thinking is delusional because, while I'm sure they put in long hours when they were younger, firm life has never been so demanding as it is now. Partners in charge didn't live under the iron-fisted rule of technology when they were associates. Thirty years ago, they weren't chain to mobile devices that make them accessible at all hours of the day. Client expectations vis-a-vis response time are insane these days due to technology, and partners didn't have to live with that when they were younger.


This. And not many new partners are being made anymore, at least in Germany. BigLaw entered the German market in the 90ies and really grew 2000-2008, few partners made in those days are close to retirement age already and the market has not grown since. Chances to make partner? Go figure. I do not blame this on the partners made in better days, they've left university in the best years possible and made the best of it by working hard and taking risks. I do however blame them for not adapting to the changed circumstances and offering associates something different instead of the classic 'partner track'. They are hiring highly intelligent and qualified individuals and yet - apparently - expect us to not see and understand those things. We do see, we do understand and we are planning our lifes accordingly. Associates would stay a lot longer at firms if firms would be open about the non-performance related reasons why no new partners have been made in years, if senior associates would be valued and treated with respect instead of 'not partner material but good enough to dump ever increasing workloads and responsibilities on' and if something else would be offered instead of a completely theoretical partner track, most importantly some work-life-balance.
« Last Edit: April 17, 2015, 09:00:29 AM by Lyssa »

FrugalShrew

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Re: Quality of life for young lawyers at firms?
« Reply #11 on: April 17, 2015, 10:12:50 AM »

Lyssa

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Re: Quality of life for young lawyers at firms?
« Reply #12 on: April 17, 2015, 11:29:44 AM »
Meanwhile, I get articles like the following in my inbox: http://www.bcgsearch.com/article/900044811/The-1-Attorney-Career-Killer-that-Attorneys-Are-Never-Taught/

What a brilliant piece of 'how not to attract talented and committed employees'. Somebody with both talent and commitment knows that not everything is equally important and the importance of recharging your batteries once in a while exactly in order to be prepared to give everything when it counts. You do not run marathons to train for one, because if you did, you would be so much weaker and slower on the day of the race. If I happen to run into a hospital not staffed with doctors on weekends I would sure as hell not blame the doctors who already worked five full days for their lack of commitment but the hospital for their lack of planning and poor staffing.

Oh and small newsflash: at least in Germany most firms already have a problem attracting youmg associates and see those who do sign leaving far earlier than the firms would wish. Maybe this shows what an uncommited and lazy people we are. Or it just shows how intelligent and committed people weight the pros and cons of being an associate without a few 100k student debt ;-)

Embok

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Re: Quality of life for young lawyers at firms?
« Reply #13 on: April 18, 2015, 02:18:28 PM »
As a former BigLaw partner who left after 20+ years to start a boutique, my advice to the OP would be NOT to suggest big changes if he or she wants to stay at the firm. 

Unfortunately, most large law firms are run like clubs for the benefit of an in-group of partners who grew up together as lawyers.  Those lawyers tend to receive more money relative to the work they do, and more protection from income reduction if their areas are slow -- and frequently are protected from the consequences of their own bad behavior (bullying, dumping late work on associates or partners outside the club, sexual harassment, stealing credit, etc.).  I'm not saying they are all bad, but generally any criticism of how a firm is run that originates with an associate (or a non-club partner) will be used against that associate when he or she is vulnerable (at the next review, or firing decision, or partnership decision).   Not the ideal response, alas: lawyers should be willing to learn and improve; but unfortunately realistic.

LeRainDrop

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Re: Quality of life for young lawyers at firms?
« Reply #14 on: April 18, 2015, 05:19:46 PM »
Thanks for the input! I think the firm is pretty good about obtaining feedback. The firm regularly has anonymous surveys, there are meetings to inform associates about the firm's goals and financials, etc.

Quote from: Embok
As a former BigLaw partner who left after 20+ years to start a boutique, my advice to the OP would be NOT to suggest big changes if he or she wants to stay at the firm.

Hi, Lou Lou, I hope you're right about the firm being open to "big" suggestions . . . but I totally agree with Embok.  I've been with the same BigLaw firm my whole career to date (7 1/2 years, plus as a summer associate), and for the first two or three years, I was naive and probably felt the same way as you.  We have "doors always open" environment, approachable local management (not quite so much national, as they are legitimately very busy people, but at least they put in some effort), suggestion boxes, anonymous surveys, focus groups, etc.  The official position that has been repeatedly communicated to us is just like you say -- wanting input to make associates happy, retain them, and help them grow into partners -- and that probably is the model that they wish the profits aligned with.  But the reality is, those in power want to stay in power, they want to earn lots of money (more!), they want to significantly control who can and cannot join their club (making the prerequisites less obtainable each year), and they cannot upset the careful balance of power that already exists.  This last part is probably the most important as it pertains to your original question -- just like you wouldn't want to rock the boat for yourself, most partners can't risk rocking the boat with their peers, or with their bosses (depending on firm structure), by advocating for non-traditional change.  I think that wanting to "check in and see how things are going" has multiple goals -- (1) show that they care about you, (2) possibly learn and make small changes that would make a positive difference for you, (3) hope that you confirm that the firm is already doing just great / other firms aren't any better / you don't know what's wrong with those silly people who left, and (4) carefully persuade/influence you to feel positively about how the firm currently is, what it purportedly "values," or how it allegedly "plans" to evolve.
« Last Edit: April 18, 2015, 05:26:29 PM by LeRainDrop »