Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Prediction of the death of billable hours, part 3

Peter Lattman's post today on Law Blog, You Say You Want a Big-Law Revolution, talks about the efforts of two Stanford Law School students to get the big-name law firms to agree to change the 24/7 nature of the practice of law. Here's part of Lattman's post:

A group of law students wants to change that. Last night, Stanford Law’s Andrew Canter and Craig Holt Segall — along with roughly 125 students from the nation’s top law schools — emailed hiring partners and recruiting coordinators at the AmLaw 100 law firms. Their new organization, Law Students Building a Better Legal Profession, wants the country’s biggest law firms to sign-on to principles espousing a saner work environment for lawyers.

“We are writing as a group of over 100 law students to propose a change in the way we all experience our profession,” the email begins. “We are working to ensur[e] that practicing law does not mean giving up a commitment to family, community, and dedicated service to clients.”

What makes this request different from all others (yes, it's Pesach, so the phrasing is intentional) is that the law students have indicated that they're willing to take a pay cut as part of the trade-off for more reasonable hours.

Quixotic? Maybe, given the immense budgets that large law firms have structured. But these students' request has recognized the relationship between high salaries and long hours. It'll be interesting to see which firms, if any, sign on and which signatories, if any, actually follow through on a change in the pace of work.


Anthony Ciolli said...

This movement is not going to work, at least in this current incarnation, since most law students at top law schools do not want lower salaries for lower hours (for one thing, those options are already available outside the large firm setting). When given the choice, most law students take biglaw over government, public interest, contract attorney, and other jobs with sane hours but low paychecks, so biglaw must be doing something right.

Nancy Rapoport said...

Great to hear from you, Anthony! I think that you're right about these two students being much more realistic about what "biglaw" offers to associates. I also think that there are two things driving the acceptance of offers at big firms: one is the amount of student debt, and the other is the almost invisible persuasion in law schools that "biglaw" is, somehow, the brass ring. It doesn't help that so many of us come from big-firm practice. If we can persuade people that, over time, the brass ring is a very individual decision, that will bode well for our profession.

Anonymous said...


I've recently returned to BigLaw, following a 5-year stint in-house at a Fortune 50 company that prides itself in (and ranks among the very top corporations for) family friendliness.

When I left BigLaw, I went looking for an improved quality of life. What I discovered was (1) the quality of life (read: hours at work) was not as improved as I believed it would be (more on this in a moment), and (2) the quality of work and thus my satisfaction with the work in-house was not at all what I had hoped for.

I have worked now in a boutique firm, BigLaw, and in-house. In all cases, I have been very well treated, been given the best available work, and found myself among the hardest workers in each enterprise. This (I think) says as much about me as it does about the enterprises, and therein lies my point: many of us are drawn, to BigLaw not out of greed or indebtedness, but out of a quirk of personality that means we are driven, and seek to be involved in the most critical matters to our clients (as opposed to routine matters) and are willing to work longer hours to be able to do so.

(My observation will likely have a familiar ring to you, as an analogous quirk toward drivenness is common among academics -- I worked as many hours as a professor as I do now as a lawyer).

What BigLaw partnerships, and more to the point, BigLaw clients count on in hiring young associates, is finding lawyers who are driven and never happier than when they are up to their eyeballs in a real challenge that calls for creativity and drive and is on a tight deadline. The practice of this type of law is not routinized, and does not lend itself easily to a nine-to-five schedule.

The critics of the BigLaw quality of life should also remember that many firms (including mine) have programs to enable their lawyers to work part time or take time off, with a proportionate cut in pay, but there are few takers. While there are two people in my department who have availed themeselves fo the opportunity with the full support of management, most of the lawyers could not imagine doing so because that is not how we are made.