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How much does your lawyer get paid?
February 13, 2006 5:30 PM   Subscribe

Lawyers appear to missing out on the growth of the leisure class. Despite American's growing leisure time, and despite another round of pay increases for starting associates, lawyers seem to be working more hours than ever. As long as lawyers are tied the billable hour, it seems that greater salaries for associates inevitably means longer hours for associates. Law professor Pat Schiltz argues [pdf] that the longer hours for new associates combined with the high pressures of law practice means that those lawyers often suffer from depression, anxiety, alcoholism, drug abuse, and suicide at very high rates, and are often forced into unethical practices just to meet the requirements of the law firm.
posted by monju_bosatsu (86 comments total)

 
Cry for the poor lawyers. Cry for them.
posted by soiled cowboy at 5:32 PM on February 13, 2006


My boss is in solo practice, doesn't bill by the hour, and still regularly works seventy-to-eighty-hour weeks. She's a workaholic. I guess that means that while some lawyers are forced to work themselves to death, others do it just because they want to.
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:38 PM on February 13, 2006


Terrible to hear. I say MORE free time for the lawyers - they need to take up a hobby, like Hunting.

The Vice President is running out of targets.
posted by swell at 5:39 PM on February 13, 2006


The sound you don't hear is that of the world's tinniest violin, playing a sad, sad, song, just for the poor overworked lawyers.
posted by C.Batt at 5:44 PM on February 13, 2006


What growing leisure class?

Is anybody working less hours and living better these days (other than high Bush Administration officials and relatives of politicians and CEOs)?

That's why Cheney had to take a 78-year-old retired lawyer hunting; everybody he knows with a private sector job is too busy either making money or shredding documents.
posted by wendell at 5:48 PM on February 13, 2006


I know of NO other profession that involves the amount of work and amount of stress that lawyers regularly deal with. IANAL but my friends who are work far more than anyone else I see. As an academic I lead a very cushy life, and I get paid accordingly. My wife, WIAL, works herself to the bone, and gets paid accordingly. Seems fair to me. (Though not always to her!) If you don't like how much lawyers get paid, you are more than welcome not be become one, but DON'T think they don't work for the money.
posted by johngumbo at 5:50 PM on February 13, 2006


Oh, and every lawyer I know would love to work fewer hours, and most would be willing to take a pay cut, but their firms won't allow that. They must meet billables, which means keeping up the hours. Generally, part-time means you're out the door pretty soon. I only know one successful part-timer, and his part-time means he only has to bill about 2000 hours a year instead of 2400. (Remember, billable means billable. Meetings, client development, meetings, lunch, pro bono work meetings and meetings don't count. You do the math.) 2400 hrs is in the high middle of required hours at big firms.
posted by johngumbo at 6:01 PM on February 13, 2006


It is easy to make light of the situation, but these pressures are real and the consequences are real as well. For the individual, they make a choice whether to venture into biglaw, with its attendant hours and stress. But don't pretend that what happens at Wall Street law firms doesn't affect everyone else. If the people closing that deal are more likely to act unethically because of the structure of their work life and environment, then the fall out of such unethical practices is more likely to affect the average joe.
posted by Falconetti at 6:02 PM on February 13, 2006


I know one lawyer who needs a proof-reader.
posted by bardic at 6:02 PM on February 13, 2006


It's hard work.
posted by Balisong at 6:04 PM on February 13, 2006


Its sad about depression but come on really..Darfur now that's sad..driving a Camry vs. a Lexus well that's sad that ya posted this to begin with.
posted by Mr Bluesky at 6:04 PM on February 13, 2006


What growing leisure class?

You might want to read the article in the first link.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 6:04 PM on February 13, 2006


Its hard I tell ya.
posted by Mr Bluesky at 6:05 PM on February 13, 2006


The people who are integral parts of the system that resolves disputes and creates or interprets the laws of the United States are being ground into soulless cash factories.

If you think that what effects them does not in turn effect each of you who live here, your nuts.
posted by BeerGrin at 6:06 PM on February 13, 2006


The Truth about the Billable Hour
posted by jcruelty at 6:06 PM on February 13, 2006


are being ground into soulless cash factories.

Err..don't become a lawyer?
posted by Mr Bluesky at 6:08 PM on February 13, 2006


"Err..don't become a lawyer?"

Yes, because if no one becomes lawyers, we all know that all arguments between Americans that involve money will stop.

....no....wait...

Try this: Keep those who might actually give a shit about their fellow man out of legal careers!

Umm....still leaves most of us fucked....
posted by BeerGrin at 6:12 PM on February 13, 2006


Pick a different career. Until then, remind me why anyone should give a flying fuck about the plight of lawyers tied to billable hours, as opposed to, perhaps, DA's or public defenders?
posted by docpops at 6:14 PM on February 13, 2006


Err..don't become a lawyer?

That wasn't the point. I believe that BeerGrin is making a point I was trying to make, that what affects them, affects you. To take a more extreme example, there is some concern that doctors that work very long shifts become tired and less effective the longer they are forced to stay up. Would you rather have a fresh, wide awake doctor see to you, or a tired doctor?
posted by Falconetti at 6:15 PM on February 13, 2006


Because docpops, much like physicians, the things that lawyers do day in and day out have real effects on flesh and blood people.

If we keep an economic system or business model that forces/encourages lawyers to be come more and more and more predatory, they will. Lawyers will be driven by the almighty dollah alone, and we will all get to live with the result.

And if you think it can't get any worse than it already is......
posted by BeerGrin at 6:20 PM on February 13, 2006


these poor lawyers sound like they need a union.

remember, billable means billable
posted by Miles Long at 6:28 PM on February 13, 2006


(Is anyone else totally not stoked about the new Dick Wolf series? WTF Dick Wolf, WTF?)
posted by bardic at 6:28 PM on February 13, 2006


Is anybody working less hours and living better these days (other than high Bush Administration officials and relatives of politicians and CEOs)?

RTFA, much?
posted by wilful at 6:29 PM on February 13, 2006


Oh Christ. Please don't compare tired lawyers to tired doctors, any more than I would try to compare myself to a neurosurgeon or pilot. The rigors and uncertainties of a legal career are clear from the start. The profession does a poor job of policing itself of abuses of the legal system.

I know full well there are incredible, altruistic, valuable people out there who don't get near the compensation they deserve, but this FPP has little to do with them, as far as I can tell.

Unless someone can convincingly teach me otherwise, the world of law seems to be self-perpetuated by the morass of work generated by prior legions of its own obfuscating, hyperverbal ranks.
posted by docpops at 6:29 PM on February 13, 2006


BeerGin, if this post was to offer insight into our legal dealings and warn us of poor performance..fair comment. But even in that case there will still be those who can manage and be equitable in their dealings.

However, if it was to share that this profession is overworked..duh..then who gives a fuck and get in line. Ask the miner in WVa who works harder and is more stressed.

Really..don't drape this in a more noble theme than was initially posted.
posted by Mr Bluesky at 6:31 PM on February 13, 2006


Even if we overlook the life-and-death aspects of working long hours, it's proven that productivity decreases and errors increase beyong a certain number of hours. At the very least, clients who are billed for those long hours are not getting as good a deal with an exhausted, stressed out lawyer as they would with a rested one.
posted by tippiedog at 6:33 PM on February 13, 2006


Docpops - the world of law is perpetuated by the firms that hire more lawyers. No lawyer works for free. They work for clients that hire them. Next time you get sued by the person you backed into, I recommend that you don't hire a lawyer and see what happens. Just to "convinclingly teach [you] otherwise." You might think they work pretty hard too.
posted by johngumbo at 6:35 PM on February 13, 2006


I know of NO other profession that involves the amount of work and amount of stress that lawyers regularly deal with.
migrant farm worker? retail clerks? sweatshop workers? miners (dammit bluesky, you beat me on preview)?

they chose their career path, they had plenty of time to understand the amount of work involved. it's their choice to believe *anything* about their line of work (what's fair/unfair/too much).

the difference? it's far easier for someone with a law degree (not to mention the bachelor's to get there in the first place) to move into a non-law career than for any of those other groups to move into a new career. particularly those with families and the working poor versus freshly graduated singles with a lot less to lose.
posted by raygun21 at 6:36 PM on February 13, 2006


Oh Christ. Please don't compare tired lawyers to tired doctors, any more than I would try to compare myself to a neurosurgeon or pilot.

I can't speak for anyone else, but when I made this comparison I prefaced it with "to take an extreme example" because I was aware they the occupations were not commensurate. Again, in my case, the comparison wasn't based on "tiredness" it was based on "pressure." It was a metaphor, not a direct comparison.

I still think one should be concerned. Not to feel sorry for lawyers, but because these work practices make everything worse for everyone.
posted by Falconetti at 6:38 PM on February 13, 2006


So, these lawyers, they elucubrate?
posted by mr_crash_davis at 6:39 PM on February 13, 2006


Next time you get sued by the person you backed into, I recommend that you don't hire a lawyer and see what happens. Just to "convinclingly teach [you] otherwise.

Of course I'll hire a lawyer. I fucking have to, because every half-witted mongoloid dickheaded zombie thinks that a fender bender entitles them to a slice of society's or my hard-earned pie after thirty years of drinking the legal profession's Kool-Aid. Use a better example.
posted by docpops at 6:43 PM on February 13, 2006


But never e·lu·ci·dat·e
posted by Mr Bluesky at 6:45 PM on February 13, 2006


The is a really great post - well put together, thoughtful, and interesting. Thanks.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 6:47 PM on February 13, 2006


This is funny. If the article had been about, say, teachers or some other pissed-upon profession having to work long hard hours, there would be this chorus screaming "Stop whining and get a different job!" But because this is about fucking lawyers, I'm supposed to feel pity for them and disgust about the system?
Please...
posted by Thorzdad at 6:48 PM on February 13, 2006


I don't see anywhere in this FPP or really anywhere in the comments, except for maybe johngumbo, of people asking others to feel sorry for lawyers. But thankfully many people have expressed they do not feel sorry for lawyers, so that nonexistent point has been thoroughly refuted.
posted by Falconetti at 6:51 PM on February 13, 2006


Thorzdad, teachers get summers off. Not exactly the oxen of the workforce. More like the substitute mommies.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 6:58 PM on February 13, 2006


Thorzdad, teachers get summers off. Not exactly the oxen of the workforce. More like the substitute mommies.

Idiot.

Quick question: is there a substitute to billable hours? It seems like there is a lot of emphasis on that, but how else would you charge clients?
posted by billysumday at 7:04 PM on February 13, 2006


Jesse, While I am aware that teachers "get the summer off" I know piss few of them who don't still have to work somehow to help pay the bills.
But thank you for illuminating us as to your societal values.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:07 PM on February 13, 2006


Interesting read. One might argue there's nothing inherently weird about a group of people working more when wages increase. The returns to work increase, while the returns from leisure remain the same. Depending on how far you wish to walk down the dismal road - the lawyers are wealthier so can afford more leisure (an income effect) but work is also more attractive (a substitution effect). No a priori reason to think one will dominate the other. </rational expectations>
posted by ~ at 7:08 PM on February 13, 2006


billysumday: Some law firms are experimenting with transaction fees and "success fees" rather than simple billable hours. The difficulty with this approach is that it can be hard to tell at the beginning of an engagement how big it will be and how many resources will be required, which makes it hard to come up with a flat rate. But it's becoming more common on the transactional side (which is easier to predict) and is showing up a bit on the litigation side too. The little anecdotal evidence I have heard suggests that these arrangements have minimal impact on lifestyle, because the pressure just changes from "maximize number of hours" to "maximize number of deals."
posted by brain_drain at 7:11 PM on February 13, 2006


billysumday, the two primary alternatives to hours-based billing are project billing and value billing. The ABAnet has a couple of articles on the subject, and ethicalEsq has a big post on value billing.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 7:12 PM on February 13, 2006


Billy, most plaintiff's attorneys (personal injury, medical malpractice, etc) charge a "contingent fee," which means "we don't get paid unless you win." It sounds pretty good in theory, but it has also contributed a lot to the litigious nature of our society. Lawyers like this take on as many cases as possible, in order to maximize the odds of a successful settlement (and the resulting fee).
posted by MrZero at 7:12 PM on February 13, 2006


Unless someone can convincingly teach me otherwise, the world of law seems to be self-perpetuated by the morass of work generated by prior legions of its own obfuscating, hyperverbal ranks.

Somebody must have just paid his malpractice insurance.
posted by jennyb at 7:14 PM on February 13, 2006


The thing is, the requirement of the firms they work for that lawyers bill as much as possible fucks anyone who wants to hire a lawyer over. As the last link points out, it's not uncommon to "round up" on the timesheet in various ways, which translate into a higher cost for the client. By encouraging a professional culture that doesn't demand such huge returns from individual lawyers that they have to fudge their timesheet to make their goals, we all save money.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 7:16 PM on February 13, 2006


Mr. Zero, I think that contingency fee agrees are extremely important, however, as a way for low income and indigent people to access legal services. For that reason alone, I would be loathe to do away with the practice.
posted by jennyb at 7:17 PM on February 13, 2006


One might argue there's nothing inherently weird about a group of people working more when wages increase. The returns to work increase, while the returns from leisure remain the same.

The problem in this case, though, is that there is no increase in returns from work. Instead, the minimum number of hours gets jacked up under the guise of increasing compensation. Indeed, many associates fail to realize that although they get a raise on the face of their paycheck, they may actually receive fewer dollars per hour after their raise than before.

Few other professions have such a direct measure of productivity. Associates at big firms have reams of statistics generated on each of them, including not just hour worked and hours billed, but also hours worked but not billed, chargeable hours, charged hours, collected hours, percentage billable from month to month, and the dollar equivalent of each of these measures. Imagine if, at your job, your boss had an printout of your daily activities in six minute intervals. If you didn't bill enough hours, you won't make partner, or worse, you'll get fired. Every slow monday morning or lazy friday afternoon is three or four hours you have to make up some other time. Just having to keep track of all that time is enough to induce brain-numbing depression. It's no wonder unethical billing practices are so prevalent.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 7:22 PM on February 13, 2006


I think the main problem with the way billable hours work is that the rewards of being a lawyer are structured in such away that the profession attracts people that are less likely to be ethical than if the rewards were structured differently.

Lawyers are paid very very well but really can't have much anything else in their lives, because it's nearly impossible to make room for anything. This system of rewards will tend to attract people that are motivated by huge amounts of greed and not much else. If the rewards were different this wouldn't be the case.

So yeah, lawyers know what they are getting themselves into but do really want a society where one of the main controlling intrests is stocked with people who would knowingly make the sort of Faustian bargain lawyers are forced to make.
posted by I Foody at 7:23 PM on February 13, 2006


I used to be a corporate lawyer and I'm not sure about the "stress" really. You are pushing paper. Lots of it.


Many in my family are doctors and they deal with much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much more stress than a lawyer ever will. I can think of truck drivers and teachers and athletes who are more stressed and actually give something back to society.

Most associates spend most of their time doing inane tasks that an intelligent high schooler could do like "document review" and "privelege logs" -- which are $400/hr activities that are really 2cent words. The stress is really believing that you worked your butt off in undergrad and law school to be making $125,000 dollars/year at the age of 25 but realizing that you are doing nothing of any help to anyone but your firm and getting rewarded for doing the above mentioned ridiculously easy tasks slowly -- no kidding. I routinely got reamed out because I finished my "boxes" of document reviewing too quick. No matter that I was trying to be efficient for the client. It just was not helping the firm any.

Still, I got out and many do. There are lots of rewarding types of law -- pretty much all types except corporate big firm law and ambulance chasing -- where you actually do do a service for a client and help justice happen.

This post is really stupid. And, you know, what? Nothing will ever change at the big firms. Legions of law students will jump at the chance to make the money they throw at you even if for a couple years. The few rainmaking partners are the ones who get to do the real negotiating and the action. The scariest moment for me was when I was at in a conference room -- looking over emails of some associate vice president for a *possible* message that could have been useful for the case and it was late at night and a clientless partner was right next to me.* I didn't have the wife to support and the kids in private school or the house in Princeton to keep up yet, and if it took doing what that guy did at the age of 45, I never wanted it. Like I said, I got out quick.

I could talk forever about my two years at the firm -- but seriously 6-8 months of my life were spent going through emails like this one ranging from topics as diverse to where the assistant vice president wanted to go for lunch that day to how her daughter was doing at college to, perhaps 1% of the time an issue related to the case. And, you know what, the few papers I pulled would never really be pulled or used seriously in any serious court-room. And, the trial in question -- a copyright case -- would probably settle before trial -- whenever someone yelled chicken -- an event only the rainmaking partners would have any hope of seeing the action in anyways.

My friends are now getting into business school and are becoming managers at places like Dell and Pepsi (as well as becoming i-bankers). If you like the corporate world, want to make money, and say you actually built something, contributed to the world, and helped people -- go to business school.

If you are undergrad and are reading this one and want that Manhattan corporate lawyer life -- a 3.5 undergrad GPA and a 168+ on the LSAT will probably get it for you. But, oh my god, at a price.......

To really think this world (corporate law) feels sorry for itself and takes itself seriously is the best joke the $120,000 grand I spent on law school can buy.
posted by skepticallypleased at 7:26 PM on February 13, 2006


"If you like the corporate world, want to make money, and say you actually built something, contributed to the world, and helped people -- go to business school."


Explain me how the bits in italics lead to the non-itallicized text above? I get a little fuzzy on that transition, SP.
posted by lalochezia at 7:49 PM on February 13, 2006


Speaking as a lawyer, I remind myself every day that there are plenty of people who work far worse hours than I do for far less money and with far fewer opportunities for advancement. One of the very few reasons billable hour requirements are so often cited for the 'plight' of lawyers is that they are a quantified measure of success, which most other professions haven't calculated to such a degree. I worked for an ad agency for a while, and though the billable hour requirements weren't as heavily promoted, the pressure to meet them was definitely there.

My advice to future lawyers: go to a cheaper law school and work your ass off to get the big-firm job (if you want it).
posted by socratic at 7:50 PM on February 13, 2006


Ken Rosenberg--there's a guy who had real problems.
posted by bardic at 7:53 PM on February 13, 2006


skepticallypleased, I know a lot of young lawyers that feel the same way you do. That's too bad, because young lawyers are, for the most part, smart, creative, compassionate, and generally interesting people. The job too often grinds that out of them, and either turns them into embittered hour and dollar-driven partners, or spits them out of the system entirely. That's what this post is about--"stupid" as it may be.

I guess I can tell a different kind of story. I also went to work for a big corporate law firm. (Hint: all "big" firms are "corporate." That just means your clients have money with which to pay you.) I certainly did my fair share of document review, but I also drafted and responded to discovery requests, and I took and defended depositions. Even more importantly, I did much more than just discovery. I drafted motions and responses, and was the lead drafter of dispositive motions in a number of securities and antitrust cases. The last case on which I worked before I left was a complex patent/contract/antitrust case in which I drafted two successful motions to dismiss and managed a team of other associates and legal assistants engaged in discovery. I was the primary contact for the clients, and I can tell you, they were genuinely grateful for the service we provided, which meant removing an obstacle to potentially millions of dollars of business for the clients and the development of an important new technology in their industry. This was all in my first two years as an associate.

I can assure you that the stress imposed on associates in that kind of environment is enormous, even where they are afforded the kind of responsibility and control over their own cases that I had. The hours are long, and as I indicated in my comment above, each hour is measured and counted by the firm. I don't simply mean that I spent long hours in the office, but that each six-minute interval had to be productive and accounted for. In one week, I billed 120 hours, and in another month, I billed over 300 hours. I had friends and colleagues succumb to alcoholism and depression.

It's easy to suggest that maybe young lawyers should have chosen another career, but industry needs lawyers to facilitate business. The notion that lawyers don't "give something back" is ridiculous. Try starting a business, or effecting a merger, or managing an hr department, or defending a lawsuit, or filing a lawsuit without a lawyer. Those jobs will always be there to be filled, and young, capable law students will always fill them. (Don't forget the crushing debt imposed by some law schools, too.)

The whole point of my post is that too many of those young lawyers have experiences like skepticallypleased, and that experience is driven in large part by billable hours. When law practice crushes all but the most money-hungry and unethical, well, it's no surprise that have have corporate and legal scandals like Vinson & Elkins' role in the Enron scandal, or Jensen & Gilchrist's role in the recent tax shelter scandal. Law practice doesn't have to be run that way, and when it's not, young lawyers are encouraged to be ethical counselors for their clients, instead of obsequious facilitors of questionable corporate practices.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 8:01 PM on February 13, 2006


lal -- I guess it's some envy I have for the clients we had really. I envied the businesspeople and the talented writers and artists who were creating the stuff the copyright trial had put into question. They were the ones who were trying to put a product out into the world -- a product that would mutually make them and the purchasers of their product happier. As a naive law student, I figured if I didn't have the talent to be a part of that process, I would at least try and make sure their creations were protected as best the law provided for them. But, it didn't work out that way.

The firm's goal was to extend the litigation as much as possible. That meant calling all sorts of peripheral witnesses. Requests for documents that didn't have a shit to do with the case at issue -- you know, the "throw as much paper at them" as you can.

I just feel my business school friends will still be pulling in six figures but at least the ones who go to corporations, if they are ethical, will spend their day trying to figure out how better to market GE's new CAT-Scan machines or whether or not Dell should get into the cell phone business -- possibly making really cool cell phones cheaper for everyone as Dell tends to do.

They go home -- and even if they fail at their project -- you know, 6-8 months deciding Dell SHOULD NEVER go into cell phones -- what one could say is the least productive scenario for a worker -- at least they helped the firm, the shareholders, and consumers at large. Even more so if they greenlight a good product.....get it?

I got nothing against making money -- but I want to do it right and in an ethical fashion. Spending countless years of my life moving paper for no other purpose than to drive up billable hours -- that's not how to do it -- even if I can't afford a doorman building anymore.

I could go on forever about how why an ethical law firm that actually plays fair and tries to keep litigation and deals lean and mean will never work -- but that's past the scope of the thread here. Suffice it to say that the adverserial process does not allow for such high mindedness. Even if you want to play fair, you will almost certainly lose if the other side does what they "can" indeed do not what they "should" do. Law is incredibly flexible for morality of that sort.

As for the sentence you highlighted -- it's the "making money" part that make it unique. As a teacher, social worker, nurse, and even a doctor, you can help the world -- but it ain't going help you keep up with the Joneses.....if you get my drift.
posted by skepticallypleased at 8:02 PM on February 13, 2006


I would love to give my opinion on this topic, but I have been working too much lately.

Okay, here's the short version: after hating being a lawyer for sixteen years (and hating lawyers for almost as long - as a group, lawyers are the most despicable people I have ever, ever, run across), I spent six months as an unemployed lawyer last year before I finally started my own practice.

I'm currently working about forty hours a week doing tax returns with a pair of CPA friends, and about another thirty hours a week forming corporations, giving tax advice, and doing estate planning for my own clients and referrals from the CPAs. And, you know what? I think I'm finally happy.

I should have done this a long time ago.
posted by yhbc at 8:02 PM on February 13, 2006


Monju -- I saw some aspects of that too and I would have to state your experience was incredibly atypical. I can seriously doubt you were at a NYC or DC based firm. I understand than at other big firms in most cities associates are treated a bit more like human beings and educated to be better lawyers and not merely $$$$ machines.

But, that would bring me to another sucky aspect of law in the corporate big firm world: You can't choose your clients.

Did you feel your antitrust client was truly wronged? The truth is more often than not somewhere inbetween and the adverserial process does not allow for a nice compromise along quant philosophical standards. What if you were at the big corporate firm that represented their adversary -- even if it was another corporation or the government?

For my trials -- the four of them I was on while at my firm -- I'd say three I agreed with and the other I just felt dirty for having to represent. They didn't have a case and they were driving a promising start-up into the ground because they had the money to throw at the lawyers to do so. Try going far making that completely accurate and ethical comment at a law firm and you'll see why I got out before the self-hatred began.....

As for lawyers and industrial effectiveness -- yes, they are needed. Who in the world says they are not -- we are a society of laws are we not? But, are lawyers an efficient cost? NO WAY. Litigation can be massively streamlined so lawyers are just not dicking around until the settlement. Even in deals and issues like antitrust -- the simple process of gathering evidence to justify your activity and paying the right economists to say what you need them to say is burdensome.

As for deals and mergers, trust me, the money guys act first and the lawyers get involved to do the i's and cross the t's later. The tendency of the legal profession to be cautious is not the best way for the invisible hand to operate.

As far as medical malpractice goes -- oh my god....that's a mess created by law too -- it's the worst way to victims of it are rewarded and good, efficient care is given to people.

Listen monju -- like I said the money is great -- $125,000 at 25 years old and it only goes up from there! -- but everything comes at a price.

Yes -- the stupid billable hour -- where you are incentivized to do easy work slowly is a big cause of that hell -- but I know now that when I eat out only once in two weeks instead of like every night (even if it's ordering in) -- the food tastes so much better than it did before -- I'm not kidding at all.
posted by skepticallypleased at 8:17 PM on February 13, 2006


It is funny, as a law student who will be summering at one of these "prestigious" big corporate NY firms this summer, there is little here that I am not already very aware of. My plan has always been to go this route for a couple years to pay back some debt and to set myself up for a less stressful job in government 4-6 years down the line.

As has been hinted at, the crushing law school debt makes this choice for me seem mandatory. I could go straight into government or public interest, but I would have over $100,000 hanging over my head with little means to pay it off. There are LRAP programs and some loan forgiveness in certain government agencies, but these are not sure fire options. Almost every person I know at school is going to a big law firm and very few of them have any intention of staying there longer than the typical 3-5 years.

Law students know this and law firms know this, so there is even less incentive to stop churning and grinding up young associates because there is no intention of giving them partnership prospects.

Another factor thay may play into the almighty billable hour is the prevalence of accounts receivable financing at many law firms. Without having a good sense of their worth, using accounts receivable as Article 9 security wouldn;t be as easy. I am uncertain on that though, it is just a guess.
posted by Falconetti at 8:24 PM on February 13, 2006


I can seriously doubt you were at a NYC or DC based firm. I understand than at other big firms in most cities associates are treated a bit more like human beings and educated to be better lawyers and not merely $$$$ machines.

You're right. I was at a big firm in Texas. And I agree that the firms outside NY and DC tend to be slightly more humane, for reasonably small values of humane.

But, that would bring me to another sucky aspect of law in the corporate big firm world: You can't choose your clients.

Speaking generally, that's not entirely true. While certainly it pays the bills to bring in the work, there's no rule that you have to accept every client that comes through the door. I personally discussed a few cases with my boss where my firm turned down work. In one case, after we left a meeting with a prospective client, my boss turned to me, shook his head, and said, "What a bunch of crooks." He knew that the prospective client was visitng a few other law firms, so he just didn't return their calls. We heard later that they went with one of the other big firms in town.

As an associate, however, you are certainly at the mercy of the partners for whom you work. If your partners accept bad clients, there's not much you can do about it.

Did you feel your antitrust client was truly wronged? ... What if you were at the big corporate firm that represented their adversary -- even if it was another corporation or the government?

My client was the defendant, so they didn't claim that they were wronged or seek any recovery. However, I did honestly believe that the plaintiff's cause of action was without merit, and I had no problem making that argument. Had I represented the plaintiff in that case, I would have been able to make an argument on their behalf, but it simply wasn't as likely to be successful. I agree that the truth in commercial complex litigation is rarely obvious, and neither party often wears a white hat or a black hat. Often both sides have reasonable greivances, and it's reasonable for their respective lawyers to represent their own clients in good faith. Although we represented clients on the losing side of some litigation, I was never asked to make an argument in bad faith.

Are lawyers an efficient cost? Certainly not in some cases. It's hard to pin that blame on young associates, though. Some of the problem comes from needlessly complex statutory schemes, but some comes from the perverse incentives created by the billable hour. However, I was never "incentivized to do easy work slowly." We had plenty of work to go around, and the partners I worked for were interested in managing litigation as efficiently as possible. The importance of retaining a client across multiple lawsuits in many cases offsets the incentive to bilk the client out of as much money as possible on any single case. There is no similar countervailing interest, however, in requiring a higher and higher number of billable hours from associates.

Listen monju -- like I said the money is great -- $125,000 at 25 years old and it only goes up from there! -- but everything comes at a price.

The whole point of my post is that I agree with you. The price to young associates, particularly those young associates at the largest firms, is enormous. The hourly billing system, which encourages law firms to push hourly requirements to cover the expenses of increased salaries, is a death spiral for many young associates, and is bad for law firms, bad for clients, and bad for business.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 8:39 PM on February 13, 2006


I don't have much to add, except to say that Schlitz's article (linked here [pdf]) played a large role in my career decisions. If you are in law school (or thinking about going) and have not seen this article, please do yourself a favor and read it.
posted by ajr at 8:54 PM on February 13, 2006


Monju -- you've changed my mind a bit -- like a good mefi thread will do -- but I think you can have all the benefits and many fewer ethical dilemmas or questions by either:

1. Not ambulance chasing or working at billable hour based big corporate law firm.

OR

2. Going into the business world -- doing all the fun stuff I know businesspeople do and letting the lawyers continue to play their game. That is, push on in spite of them.

I would have to caution again to a prospective big firm attorney that your experience is atypical and, you know, say in a market recession or something, I'm not sure that even your partner can refuse clients like he was......

And, like you said, for at least 6-8 years of your life -- and longer if you are not able to make rain (and, as a side note -- rain making is very difficult: You either have to befriend Bill Gates before he drops out of Harvard (ok an extreme -- but you have to have friends in the creative fields -- at least for the 21st century -- like engineering, science, entertainment -- and keep them and hope they trust you as a lawyer. Or, more traditionally, you will wait until a rainmaker retires, and if you are still around (and this could be after 20+ years OF NOT CHOOSING YOUR CLIENTS) become the responsible lawyer for that institutional/firm client......and that's if the rainmaker and the counsel at the corporation agree to give the client to you AND IF the corporation is stable enough not to go to another firm.......

If you are still at BigLaw monju I love that you are being introspective about it -- you are one of the few attorneys (and seemingly not boring people) that are. But, truly, I believe the whole environment is rotten enough and I can see from where most negative thoughts about lawyers are grounded in some truth.....
posted by skepticallypleased at 9:07 PM on February 13, 2006


Dear docpops and any other holier then thou medical staffer,

I've seen the big boys play the medical game from the inside and I don't buy the hype.

I worked at Penn not to long after Wilson killed Gelsinger.

I negotiate contact budgets now with research MD's and for every 10 of you that is decent there are 20 raging self-important assholes getting a big ol' slice of pie for "saving people."

I've seen the amount of tax money spent on researcher salaries in NIH grants.

I've worked for and with plaintiff council for people who have bee mangled by careless, lazy egoists with MD's.

Judge lawyers on someone elses dime asshole. I've seen behind the curtain.
posted by BeerGrin at 9:09 PM on February 13, 2006


I'll agree with skepticallypleased. I was heavily recruited to by friends, family and associates and so I spent a lot of time investigating the day-to-day reality of a lawyer's life. In the end I came to the conclusion that most law firms are essentially military operations. This makes sense since law firms can't fuck around--there's that element of "do or die." So law firms take their sweet time but in the end they get the job done. But, like the military, you end up with literally mountains of paper, endless procedures, protocols, processes, reviews, evaluations, summaries, and so on. You have a few guys at the top making strategic decisions and then you have legions of young people doing monkey work. There's very little room for creativity or innovation. The billable hour encourages people to be "thorough" and "make no mistakes" which really just means "take your damn time." The whole industry is just deeply flawed. It's not efficient at all. Personally, I think it's a big mistake for any really intelligent young person to go into the practice of law.
posted by nixerman at 9:09 PM on February 13, 2006


NM -- I loved your post. Your metaphor will go travelling and grow in my circles. Thanks.
posted by skepticallypleased at 9:11 PM on February 13, 2006


Imagine if, at your job, your boss had an printout of your daily activities in six minute intervals.

I worked for the IRS. We had to account for our time down to the exact tenth of an hour. And they were aggressive with keeping track of how many documents we processed per hour, constantly pressuring us to do more. Ever work in a call center? They keep detailed track of how many calls per hour you do, and some places even time your bathroom breaks.

I'm just not shedding any tears for lawyers having to do this. Plenty of other working people have to deal with it too, and they don't get the fat paychecks lawyers get.
posted by beth at 9:14 PM on February 13, 2006


Beergrin -- and you gladly get 40% of what the mangle-ees deserve when a no-fault system could just reimburse them for their damages -- sans the middleman who tries to max that 40% left and right........

But, you know what, 95% of the time a good doctor saves lives and does the right thing. A "good" lawyer as monju hints at -- at least in the legal world as it nowadays -- bills a lot of unecessary hours.
posted by skepticallypleased at 9:16 PM on February 13, 2006


The whole point of my post is that I agree with you. The price to young associates, particularly those young associates at the largest firms, is enormous. The hourly billing system, which encourages law firms to push hourly requirements to cover the expenses of increased salaries, is a death spiral for many young associates, and is bad for law firms, bad for clients, and bad for business.

Be careful monju -- Jerry Maguire wrote something like that right before he got fired. :)
posted by skepticallypleased at 9:19 PM on February 13, 2006


I'm getting carpal tunnel just reading these comments. No irony there in a thread about overworked lawyers.
posted by Toecutter at 9:21 PM on February 13, 2006


skeptically --

Fair enough. Mabey I need to realize I have HUGE chip on shoulder about Doctors, log off, wake up tomorrow and do another 16 hour day of full time job and law school at night. (That's not to evoke sympathy, that's an admission that I am to tired to be rational.)
posted by BeerGrin at 9:28 PM on February 13, 2006


Now I guess I should be a little positive. As my story above implies, I think there are upsides to practicing in a large firm, and I think there are good reasons that smart young people should consider a career in law, including, perhaps, a stop along the way at a large law firm.

I was fortunate to get the kind of responsibility that I had as a young associate; most young associates in big firms, particularly in NY and DC don't get anywhere near that kind of latitude. That just means, though, that you have to pick your firm carefully. At a large firm I got to see and work on some of the biggest, most complex cases being litigated in the country; I got to have an inside seat as huge companies waged war (to adopt the military analogy) over multi-million dollar contracts and markets; I got to meet some of the most influential people in American business; and, perhaps most importantly, I earned my clients' respect and the fee they paid me.

Unlike the feelings some expressed above, I feel like I really was part of an enterprise creating something useful; when you have a real sense of investment and ownership in your cases, you feel integrated into the work your client does. I know that in most cases, the client did not regard us as an external burden, a necessary price to be endured only grudgingly. Instead, we worked closely with clients over many cases, often times becoming close friends as well as colleagues.

Most importantly, a good law firm encourages, and indeed requires its associates to develop a moral sensitivity to their practice; lawyers are counselors and not mere functionaries. We are compelled to assist our clients in achieving not only the results they want, but the right results. It's a sad commentary on the state of big law firms to think that this model is the exception, rather than the rule, and that most big law firms spit their associates out after three years, with nothing much but an attractive resume to show for it. Not all law firms are like that; I know that the one I worked for isn't.

I never saw the pressure to drag out work to bill as many hours as possible. As I noted above, there is a countervailing influence on the firm to retain its clients for more than one matter. Most of the business at my law firm came from repeat clients and bilking the clients by dragging out document review would have jeopardized the long-term relationship between firm and client. For example, my boss never billed his clients for more than 8 hours of his time per day. We could be in trial, working 16 hours per day or more, and he would still only bill the client for 8 hours of his time. Now, as an associate, my time always got billed to the client in its entirety, but my boss thought it was better business to cut his own hours. He was right; most of his clients were fiercely loyal. It didn't hurt, of course, that he won all the time. In addition, most of the work we did was time sensitive, and so the pressure was quite the reverse; we had lots of work to do, and it needed to be done NOW.

I left the law firm after two years to pursue an opportunity to clerk for a judge on a federal circuit court. The partners I worked for encouraged me to take the opportunity, even though it meant I might not return to the firm. In fact, one influential partner wrote me a touching letter of recommendation. I will be returning to the law firm after I finish my clerkship, and although I plan on teaching one day, I am a more skilled and more thoughtful lawyer for having worked at the firm.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 9:44 PM on February 13, 2006


I'm not surprised at some of the sarcastic comments, but this is the judicial system (an integral part of a liberal society) we are talking about.
posted by j-urb at 10:12 PM on February 13, 2006


We are compelled to assist our clients in achieving not only the results they want, but the right results.

Again, a line that got Jerry fired. You think the lawyers at Sullivan and Cromwell who represented Microsoft ever said,

"You know Bill, you really should never have integrated explorer right into Win 98. That could be just a bit anti-competitive and its not worth the risk. Let people figure out how to download it. They are going to need to anyways -- much like millions have for Mozilla and Netscape anways. Just make your product the best it can be.)."

That would be your directive under your "mission statement". The result would be that you would lose a HUGE client and your competitor firm would gladly take him - get legitmacy in the computer world and get even more clients.

I guess your firm can wait around for a Rod Tidwell -- but they are few and far between and Microsoft didn't become Microsoft by being Rod Tidwell.......ok enough Jerry Maguire.....but still......

For all of the big firm law world to practice your standards, while admirable, is foolish/impractical/and well, simply not possible in a capitalist economy. Such honesty will lose out in the end.....at least on a broad scale.

Monju -- it's been fun and normally I wouldn't post this late but I got work tomorrow and I still must add and remind:

1. You are in an EXTREME minority -- even at not NYC or DC firms. I wish you the best. The top 20 law schools graduate about 12000 people a year -- a few of them win a lottery by going to the perfect firm where their career blossoms. You won. Let me remind you it's a lottery though and the winners are few. I'd even question how much of your experience is replicated at your firm. How much of your associate class is still at your firm?

2. Alternate billing systems will never work or get implemented. It will almost certainly = fewer profits for the law firm that does it -- and, well, you know how often businesses opt for that strategy.

3. You will still have to defend clients not of your choosing. And, I think anyday you spend doing something you can't truly believe in is a day you wasted on this planet -- provided you had the choice to do different (and you always can leave you know -- as many people who criticized your post said -- no one is forcing you to work where you do).

4. I'd really have liked to see your practice circa 2001 (when I was practicing) and see if it could be so high minded about the clients it was could keep. Recession will do crazy stuff to people. As they state, beggars can't be choosers.

5. And last, and a bit out there I'd admit but extremes are great arguing places as a lawyer knows -- but what if Bush simply scrapped the Antitrust laws -- you know, and brought us back to where we were before Teddy busted the trusts? Then, where would you and your skills be?

I mention the points and the last one because corporate big firm law and ambulance chasing law have intrinsic aspects to them that grind and destroy what brings some of the admirable people to the law in the first place: justice, fairness, equality, and a sense that acting in an ethical fashion is acting right.

Benefits are to be gained, but, as your original post admits, at some cost. I argue that cost will never go away -- except for the few "lucky" ones who get law firm experiences like yours.

I honestly feel the business world can instill similar skills and benefits while being a lot more efficiently and needfully productive. The "skills" you gain in law can be gained in multiple other legal environments -- although at much less $$$$. And, whoever said more $$$$ = more problems -- probably had it right.

Thanks for your posts here. They were great. I never thought instutional/"firm" guys like you could ever really critically assess how sad big firm law can be. Still, I think its temptations and basic format are more destructive than possible rewards....and there will always be people who could care less about the difference. And, congratulations on winning that lottery.
posted by skepticallypleased at 10:23 PM on February 13, 2006


Thanks for the very rewarding discussion, skeptic. I think we agree on quite a bit about the current state of big firm practice. I think that right now it's certainly easier to be an ethically challenged lawyer than an ethical one. I also agree that my experience is atypical of young associates at big firms. I only point it out to demonstrate that the problems associated with big firm practice are not necessarily universal, and not necessarily inherent in the practice. The structure of big firms and the billing practices tend to reinforce those problems, rather than fix them. Fixes will come from small and mid-sized entrepreneurial law firms that innovate new structures. The largest law firms are, by nature, very conservative institutions that only adopt new practices after they have proven successful in the market. But new practices are possible, and hopefully, now that associate hours have arguably reached the breaking point, we will see some of that innovation.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 10:33 PM on February 13, 2006


I have no opinion about lawyers.

I'm skeptical about the "growing leisure time" thing, though: to make that argument they have to redefine "work" to include "shopping, cooking, running errands and keeping house". Yeah, the invention of the dishwasher etc was a great timesaver at home, but I'm not sure it's all that relevant to the rest of this stuff.
posted by ook at 10:41 PM on February 13, 2006


My lawyer is worth every penny. He’s got the theme from Jaws playing around him constantly, creeps me out.
Worth. Every. Penny.

This leisure time thing though, yeah, I’m not buying either.
Why am I still at work at 2 in the morning?
posted by Smedleyman at 11:51 PM on February 13, 2006


First a thank to monju for the interesing post

By reading skepticallypleased post I infer he/she works at a firm that doesn't appreciate his propension to choose efficient
time saving methods ; in my personal experience, some extremely efficient person can also be a superficial person, not looking
accurately at details for the shake of speeding up the process.

While I admire problem reducing attitudes, I guess it's worth noting that beancounting, proofreading and other immenesely tedious
jobs are greatly underrated and I guess underpaid. So as long as problems aren't made needlessy complicated, being accurate and not superficial pays in the long term.

Industry needs lawyers to facilitate business

As one of these Phd in economy that should help the world, I would like to note that more lawyers may be needed because of
the apparent (to a profane like me) greately inefficient methods of processing that mountain of opinion, laws that seems to
characterize lawyers activities.

The language doesn't help either, as stylistic problems and redundancy seem to plague anything I read from lawyers. Also the
attitude of arguing circles around arguments without keeping the main points visibile is probably a strategy or maybe a consequence
of sloppy organization of argumentation.

One of the side effects of this is that more billable hours are billed ; from an economic point of view, this is increased demand.
Why should lawyers as a category avoid complexity when complexity is not under their complete control (lawyer firms don't make laws)
AND when complexity means more work for them ? Obviously , they don't seem to have a reason. Indeed, industry need more lawyers, probably because demand for service increased while the firms can't keep up offering the same quality of service without increasing quantity of workers and hours.

Yet billable-hour lawyers seems to be willy nilly working their way to unemployement, as they are needed in quantities , but are
very expensive and hard to train.Industry will not tolerate this as lawyers don't produce anything, they are an administrative overhead and a more or a less fixed cost, they don't take part of the risks of the company. The average cost of a lawyer may be stable or decreasing, but the value it gives is likely to decrease as the complexity of law seems only to increase and the number litigations don't seem to decrease.

What gives ? Either a class of low-expectation high-skill workers is introducted to reduce lawyer internal organization cost or maybe simplification of law-system is the best long term investment. Problem is many see simplification as synonymous with deregulation and wild market.
posted by elpapacito at 3:28 AM on February 14, 2006


Aftyer skimming the thread quickly, I have to say that Metafilter at least, seems to have its fair share of lawyers with plenty of free time. (smile, people)

lawyers often suffer from depression, anxiety, alcoholism, drug abuse, and suicide at very high rates (...) And the downside to this is what?
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:31 AM on February 14, 2006


Beer Grin,

Very little in your post made any sense, but your animosity shines through. I never expect sympathy for the plight of physicians, and my opinions stand regarding the artificially manufactured necessity of much of what lawyers do. I would do this job for a third the pay, and would never expect a respected journal of my profession to dedicate an entire edition to my plight, or spend time trying to figure out how to continue to behave 'ethically' in the face of mounting pressures. What the fuck? The whole point of an ethical construct is that it exists independent of whatever extrinsic forces one might try to use to rationalize their poor behavior.

There's no dispute that there are incompetent and malignant assholes in every "profession". I see a few every day. I have no new insights about the legal profession, and skepticallypleased summed it up eloquently and better than I could have imagined. I have availed myself of attorneys and a good one is worth every penny. Of course, I would have had no need in the first place were we not a society trained beyond repair to seek redress for every minor slight at the ass-end of a tort claim.

So yeah, it makes me piss myself with glee a little bit when some of the less critical elements of the legal profession start navel-gazing about whether they really are getting all they deserve out of life.
posted by docpops at 7:35 AM on February 14, 2006


docpops -

Your right. I posted tired, and after a bourbon.

I work in Research management for the pharmaceutical Industry and I go to Law School at night.

At School I see some of the very best that lawyers have to offer society; Public Service, Pro Bono advocacy, and Political true believers.

I also frequently in my 9-to-5 work with some of the worst that the medical profession has to offer; Egomaniacs, Tyrants and Money grubbers. None of the MD's or JD's I see are representative of their entire respective callings.

I have 3 nurses in the family, and 2 Doctors are close friends. Their inside view of hospitals and nursing homes just erodes my view of the medical profession further.

I'm in the second semester of my first year. I am working harder then I ever have in my life, and I had just read articles saying that the work was just going to get worse; or I could be poor.

I felt like you, and several other posters, were disparaging the entire legal profession from some imagined moral high ground.

It seems like apathy toward what the courts and the legislatures do is only ever disturbed by fits of mockery. No one votes. No one cares about "victims Compensation" until they are the victim, or they are the one who has to pay.

We have the system of law we all asked for. "Rugged Individuals: slugging it out. No one wants to be bothered about their fellow man until trouble lands in their lap, and then they want a flesh-eating rabid lawyer on their side so that they "win."

If people were not looking for novel ways to screw each other the worst elements of the practice of law would have no clients.

If we recognized that even excellent medical care can and does end in bad outcomes, and (god-forbid) we paid taxes into a fund to cover the rainy day when it happened to us; Med mal would die on the vine.

Our law and lawyers and politicians are exactly what we make them. They are the ugly reflection of our greed, apathy and ignorance.

None of this, docpops, was your fault. I'm sorry I vented at you.
posted by BeerGrin at 8:17 AM on February 14, 2006


Beer Grin - now I feel like an ass after reading your eloquent comments. Good luck in your endeavors.
posted by docpops at 8:41 AM on February 14, 2006


I work with Pat Schiltz. He's a good guy who left his firm before he would have gotten a multi-million payout for his firm's work on a major piece of litigation. He's also just been nominated to serve on the federal bench. It's interesting to see what happens to these people when they take the road less traveled.
posted by Coffeemate at 9:03 AM on February 14, 2006


I want to put this on the record: Poor me.
posted by esquire at 9:39 AM on February 14, 2006


I want to put this on the record: Poor me.

Move to strike on grounds that this statement presents material false statements intended to support an erroneous and insufficient defense to the allegations of greed.
posted by gd779 at 10:17 AM on February 14, 2006


depression, anxiety, alcoholism, drug abuse, and suicide at very high rates

And who said money can't buy happiness?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 10:42 AM on February 14, 2006


As an almost-lawyer (3L) I have 2 small comments to add to this discussion:

1. NYC Biglaw attorneys now make $145,000 plus bonus (typically 10-20K) in their first year out of school -- many of them 25 or 26 year old. They get paid a LOT more than many other people who work comparable hours. Don't feel too sorry for them (I know most of you don't).

2. Right now, as a law clerk, I am getting paid $62.50/hour to do the exact same thing that I got paid $15/hour to do before I started law school, when I was working as a temp paralegal. And what I do, essentially, is called "document review," and at its simplest (though it certainly can be much more complicated), it means looking through thousands of documents to see if they contain certain content, or even certain words. Yes, as noted above, an intelligent high school student could do it.

However, I have come to see this as a necessary evil. A lawsuit is an extremely complex process, and part of it requires repetitive, mind-numbing work. But it is work that has to be done correctly, and it is essential to the case. In fact, some young associates are happy to be paid so well for doing such easy (albeit time-consuming) work. But some associates seek more challenging work, which is available if you push a little bit, and eventually, some of these young associates will become senior associates or even partners, and then their intelligence and legal training really comes into play. There are very few people in the world who do what these people can do, and presumably this is why they are paid so well. And, in my experience, all of these senior-level people seem to love what they do, and work those long hours quite willingly.
posted by banishedimmortal at 12:14 PM on February 14, 2006


My brother-in-law is a class-action lawyer. He is rapidly becoming rich, has developed a pretty significant gambling problem, and his kids forget what he looks like. His wife is pretty happy, though.;>
posted by codeofconduct at 2:58 PM on February 14, 2006


However, I have come to see this as a necessary evil. A lawsuit is an extremely complex process, and part of it requires repetitive, mind-numbing work. But it is work that has to be done correctly, and it is essential to the case.

Nothing good is a necessary evil.

Much of the work is not essential to the case. You are so young, banished, you must be so young. It's only essential because a world of lawyers says it is. Other systems (like alternative dispute resolution; unemployment compensation, etc.) feign from the adverserial process of discovery upon which big law makes its moolah........

The work you do won't matter crap to the outcome most of the time. I'm sorry but it is just true. It's not just big firm law -- it's law itself. Do you ever think the lawyer's who defended Dred Scott would ever think they would lose along the lines of: "Black people are not human beings."? No.

eventually, some of these young associates will become senior associates or even partners, and then their intelligence and legal training really comes into play.

Show me the "incredibly satisfied" senior associates and partners without clients who are well and happiest. Like I said, and I was at a name firm, I had "partners" who didn't have clients doing document review right alongside me as a newly minted associate.

There are very few people in the world who do what these people can do, and presumably this is why they are paid so well. And, in my experience, all of these senior-level people seem to love what they do, and work those long hours quite willingly.

Um....again no. Like I said, the top law schools graduate about 12,000 people a year. All it really takes to get into a top ten law school is a 3.5 GPA and a 168+ on the LSAT. Of the 85,000 people a year who take the LSAT -- about 7% of the total test takers get that score -- that's about 5600 people right there a year (about the populace of the top ten law schools). And, some people hold their scores and apply later so it might even be more people. Many of such students go to big firms, make a lot of money, and soon leave.

The statements of yours I've italicized make absolutely no sense in a profession where $145,000/year workers drop out at the rate monju cites and most people now. Published firm numbers of associates who make what I'm arguing is nowadays even an undesirable partnership are about 5%. Yikes.

Do you think GE's or Disney's management class has that dropout rate? How about Goldman's? How about consulting firms? It's probably bad -- but not that bad.

I'm not attacking you banished. You want to feel good about your money and your work. I'm sorry but as a big firm lawyer -- you really can't have both and it's a fools belief in a fool's world to think you can.

Absolutely nothing wrong exists in your wanting to make money. It's the American way. I presume you'll buy lots of ipods, fancy dinners, clothing, etc. that will be an engine of the economy. But, please, you're a freaking lawyer. After two years in this paradise you name, I walked away convinced the American economy exists in spite of you guys not because of it.
posted by skepticallypleased at 4:03 PM on February 14, 2006


Skeptic, I really enjoyed reading all of your comments in this thread, and I agree with you for the most part. But I disagree with a few of your statements.

Much of the work is not essential to the case.

Of course, in the end, much of it turns out to not be essential...but there's no way to know that in the beginning. Yes, most cases settle, but they have to be ready to go to trial. Yes, you go through thousands of documents finding info that might conceivably be relevant, and then none of it is ever used, but it still needs to be done. You can't just say, well, this is probably not going to be used, so I just won't go through this box. You can argue about the system being flawed, but within the system as it is today, this is work that has to be done, i.e. it is essential.

Show me the "incredibly satisfied" senior associates and partners without clients who are well and happiest.

Maybe my law firm is unusual, but the partners, for the most part, really seem to like what they do. If they didn't, they would have left a long time ago and found jobs at I-banks, as in house counsel, etc.

Um....again no. Like I said, the top law schools graduate about 12,000 people a year. All it really takes to get into a top ten law school is a 3.5 GPA and a 168+ on the LSAT. Of the 85,000 people a year who take the LSAT -- about 7% of the total test takers get that score -- that's about 5600 people right there a year

When I said that "There are very few people in the world who do what these people can do," I'm not talking about the people who merely get in to the top 10 or so law schools. I'm talking about the people who consistently performed well enough on curved final exams to be at the top of their class, went to the elite firms, and performed well enough to become senior associates or partners -- this is a much smaller number than those 12,000 law school grads.

The statements of yours I've italicized make absolutely no sense in a profession where $145,000/year workers drop out at the rate monju cites and most people now. Published firm numbers of associates who make what I'm arguing is nowadays even an undesirable partnership are about 5%. Yikes.

People drop out for all kinds of reasons. But many, actually probably most, of them stay in the legal profession. Big law is practically designed to weed out the people who don't want to lead that kind of life, and from what I can tell, the law firms expect most people to leave after a couple of years. I mean, people talk quite openly about looking for other jobs, talking to headhunters, etc. It's not a big secret.

Do you think GE's or Disney's management class has that dropout rate? How about Goldman's? How about consulting firms? It's probably bad -- but not that bad.

Disney or GE? Probably not, being a manager there sounds pretty cushy. Goldman? I heard they burn through analysts and associates much faster than any law firm...in fact I thought being an I-banker was the only profession where you actually worked more than a NYC Biglaw associate.

I'm not attacking you banished. You want to feel good about your money and your work. I'm sorry but as a big firm lawyer -- you really can't have both and it's a fools belief in a fool's world to think you can.

I know I won't be feeling like my work is saving the world, and I don't really have any illusions about it. I am approaching this career as a few years of training before I move on to other things. I am glad to have read in one of your comments that many of your friends (I assume you mean fellow lawyers) are now working at companies and banks, because that interests me a lot. But for now, I really want to learn how law regulates business, because I actually think that is a very important issue in today's increasingly corporatized world, and will be even more important in the future.
posted by banishedimmortal at 11:57 AM on February 15, 2006


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