The Ideal Law Firm for Generations X and Y
Unfortunately, it’s a given fact
that young lawyers, especially between 25 and 41, are constantly dropping out
of objectively successful careers on their way to a potential partner position
in big law firms. Therefore, we now want to take a closer look on the main
reasons and how to prevent that from happening through giving advice on much
needed improvement in the work space.
The Status Quo
As suggested above, associates in
their Thirties tend to choose to quit their positions at big player law firms in
order to gain more of a work-life balance. This applies mostly to women, so
that as a result females are strongly underrepresented at the top of law firms,
leading to a gender gap, which very much should be averted.
Generation X and Y lawyers would rather have more time to spend on their families, relationships, and children, than to sacrifice all their energy and time on a stressful career. No matter how well paid it may be. Studies actually do show that a higher life quality is much more important to them than income or annual bonuses. Partnership systems often suggest a 7 to 8 year career track, in which the pressure and work load constantly intensify throughout, until a prestigious partner position becomes available. But that doesn’t mean the hard work stops there. Especially in top league law firms, partners have to produce an enormous amount of billable hours, leaving little time for themselves. These lawyers have to face the reality that even the achievement of their professional goals does not reduce the pressure placed on them.
In order to have the possibility of part-time work and more predictable hours, lots of associates leave their firms, after having paid off student loans with their big firm salaries, and start at smaller companies, non-profit organizations or even as faculty members at law schools. Because of a more reasonable workload and more flexible time management there, they are free to start their own families, spend quality time with their kids and do seemingly mundane things, such as have family dinners. A daily routine which is far from reality for most parents at big law firms.
Especially through granting paternity leave to their male employees, law firms would reduce the tremendously high departure numbers of talented and hard working young (female) lawyers, who have no other option than to take care of their newborns or small children themselves. This lack of support impacts the gender equality at law firms and places women at a disadvantage.
Another important step would be to introduce more job sharing situations, in which colleagues cooperate on cases, reducing work load, responsibility and risk for the individual. That might lead to higher costs, but might improve the firm in the long run. It would be one constructive option to minimize (expensive) mistakes on important legal matters through applying the four-eye principle, and make the work environment in general more agreeable. Another solution would be the beforehand mentioned introduction of part-time alternatives. This would surely decimate the stress and the threat of burnout for young lawyers, improving the overall performance of the company.
To sum up, it’s rather easy to prevent young and bright attorneys, and especially women, from leaving their law firms after only a few years. I would only require the adaption of a few changes and improvements. Those should be especially easy to implement at bigger firms, given their financial flexibility and employee resources. Open dialogue about these topics, particularly in regard to the support of female lawyers, should in any case be maintained.