Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A response to: Too Legit to Quit from Ms. JD

Too Legit to Quit.  I read this article the other day on one of the blogs that I read often: Ms. JD.  It struck me as a little irrelevant so I just had to comment on it.  The main crux of the article is that women haven't been able to achieve work/life balance and thus reach positions of power in the legal world because of the billable hour model of law firms.

I am an attorney in a large, global law firm (aka "Big Law").  So is my husband.  We are young (still in our 20s) and we do not have children (though we want them).  Like Ms. Villanueva, I went into Big Law thinking we would be different.  My husband totally supported my lofty goals of making partner.  I was smart and driven.  How could we NOT both succeed at having successful legal careers in Big Law?, I remember thinking.  Now that I have a few years under my belt, I laugh at my younger self and at Ms. Villanueva.  A mean-spirited part of me wants to leave an anonymous comment: "just you wait!"  The nicer part of me, though, really wants her, and other women, to succeed at making partner in Big Law. Just not me, though.  Get me out.  But for me, the reason I will one day quit my Big Law job is not at all because of the billable hour but because of the Big Law mentality.  The billable hour requirement is not my enemy.  My enemy is two sided:

(1) The pyramid model:  Big Law is based off of the pyramid scheme.  50 first year associates, 43 second years, 35 third years, etc. etc.  Bring in a lot of young attorneys, pay them a lot, and when (not IF) they quit, maybe replace them but probably not. 

As an associate, especially a junior associate, you are expected to live for your job and you get dumped on by the partners.  I understand that everyone has to put in his/her time and work his/her way up.  But in Big Law, the expectation for nearly every associate is that it will be so miserable that you will inevitably quit.  That is not the expectation at most companies (except investment banks).  Most companies want to keep their "home grown" employees and not spend all of the money/time to train them just to have them quit.  Not Big Law. Partners don't live off of Queens Road West because all of us have successful, enjoyable careers and make partner.  No, they profit from the sweat equity of their subordinates.  They profit if associates work a lot of hours.   1800 billable hours?  HAH.  I wish.  That would be a GREAT year for me.  More like 2300, 2400, 2500. You see, it's not the actual billable hour that is to blame, it's the mentality that associates are cash cows.

(2) Clients.  Clients can be merciless when it comes to their expectations of deadlines and work.  "When do you need this?" "Oh, we need to get this out tonight." [Glance at watch, noting with a sigh that time is already 6:00 pm].  I could deal with this if they kept their demands to mainly business hours, you know, the hours when THEY are mostly working.  But no - weekends, evenings, holidays - those are all fair game.  I have stayed up until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning because a client said that he wanted to post a document that night.  Do you think anyone else was reading that document at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning?  Absolutely not.  Their (often arbitrary) deadlines are frequently brutal.  But will partners ever speak up and say "I don't know if we can get to that this evening, but will tomorrow work?"  No way.  That client is the grass feed for the cash cow, so they are going to get exactly what they want.  And then you create your own monster.  They become very accustomed to speedy, "yes sir"-type service.  The next deal you do with them, they expect the exact same thing.

Maybe I'll do a post later on the blackberry/mobile devices and how that horrific invention has taken all of these issues and completely exacerbated them.  I'd do it now, but I just saw my red light flashing . . .

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