I Wouldn’t Hire Your Kine.

There’s an interesting online discussion between late-Gen-X Adrian Dayton and Boomer Scott Greenfield. Adrian, in Get Out of My Face, says, “Generation Y wants their life to mean something. They want to handle work that is significant, and they certainly don’t want to crank out the billable hours reviewing non-urgent documents on a Saturday afternoon just to line the pockets of the otherwise wealthy partners.” Scott, in Get Off My Yard reply, says:

Contrary to Adrian’s understanding, law firms do not exist to provide jobs for young lawyers.  They exist to provide legal services to clients.  They hire associates in order to perform some of the work needed to provide these services, subject to the overview and approval of the partners of the firm.  In the course of billing out the services of the employees, the partners seek to recover not just the salaries paid to these fine young men and women, but the fixed and variable
costs associated with the provision of services.”

They’re both wrong.* The law firm—by which I mean the law firm that Adrian and Scott are discussing, the firm that bills out its associates services by the hour—is not there to give young associates jobs, and it’s not there to provide legal services to clients. The law firm exists to make money for its principals. Providing legal services is a means to this end, but if it became possible for the partners to make money without providing services, they would. In this concern, the partners are management, so what are the young associates? The associates are not, as you might guess, labor, but rather capital—the oxen that drive the mill. The firm exists to turn the minutes of young lawyers’ lives into money.

Rule of thumb: associates are billed out at three times their salary divided by their expected billable hours. A new associate billing hourly works (approximately) a third of the year for himself, a third for his overhead, and a third for his partners. So, young lawyer, if you want to work at a firm that bills hourly for your time, and you want to reduce your work by a reasonable 1/3 (from 2100 billable hours a year to 1400, say), unless you find an “otherwise wealthy partner” willing to fund your lifestyle by taking a pay cut of her own pay you’re going to have to be willing to work for free. Even if you figure out a way to do a job in a third less time, your partners make less money, so you’d better be ready to be given fifty percent more work. Oxen live to work, so they don’t have much bargaining power. Especially not when management is perfectly happy to reduce capital (as on the self-indulgently named “Black Thursday“).

Adrian says, on behalf of Generation Y, that they’re not scared of management:

We can start our own firm, build our own company, or go work for someone that knows how to motivate us.

I approve of the first part. Starting my own firm (well, okay, “practice”; it was a couple years before it was an actual “firm”) is exactly what I did.

Build your own company? That’s great, but did you need law school to do that? Or did you just waste three precious years of your life?

Go work for someone that knows how to motivate you? I hate to break it to you, but if you don’t motivate yourself you’re going to be capital forever.

You want work/life balance, with an emphasis on “life”—working to live, not living to work. I get that. I’m a big advocate of lawyers being better lawyers by living balanced lives.

But you also wanted it handed to you  on a silver platter, with a salary and benefits. That’s not likely to happen. So why subject yourselves to the whims of management? If you think you have what it takes, don’t threaten (threatening—”if you don’t hire me on my terms, I’ll just start my own firm!”—is so childish), just do. Go ahead, Generation Y lawyers, hang out a shingle.

Scott might say it can’t be done, that there is no way for anyone fresh out of law school to competently represent people. I’ll agree that at best it’s a tough row to hoe—much harder than the safe route of salaried employment. But things worth doing are not often easy or safe. I was able to do it, but I had certain necessary . . . endowments that most of you don’t share (and I’m not talking about money, though that helps too).

So most of you are doomed to fail miserably, leaving a trail of ruined lives along the way; many of you to succeed financially while selling your souls by destroying your clients’ lives; some of you to slog along for decades working too many hours trying to scrape out a living. Only a very few of you will find yourselves doing what you love, working for a boss who knows how to motivate you, helping people, making as much money as your family needs while having time to indulge your non-legal passions.

I did it; so can you (no, not you . . . you over there . . . no, in the next row . . . no, right next to you . . . yes, you!).

Then, once you’re there—once you’ve got the practice running right—you could create a work environment in which young lawyers like you once were can have the work/life balance they crave while you take on the extra work of running the show and making sure that everyone has enough work, and the extra responsibility of making sure that everyone else’s salary and overhead gets paid, while motivating them properly.

But why would you want to?
*You knew I was going to say that, right?

0 responses to “I Wouldn’t Hire Your Kine.”

  1. Of course. I’m an old idealist to your young cynicism*. But that’s how we get all the idea out so well.

    * You knew I was going to say that, right?

  2. “If you think you have what it takes, don’t threaten (threatening—”if you don’t hire me on my terms, I’ll just start my own firm!”—is so childish), just do. Go ahead, Generation Y lawyers, hang out a shingle.”

    I really am not threatening, I am merely explaining. Biglaw firms are having trouble hanging on to young associates. I just want them to know why.

    Its kind of like the trite saying when you are breaking up with someone: “Its not me.. its you.” At least that’s always how it went for me.

    • At this moment in history, I’m not sure biglaw isn’t happy to lose young associates. “Black Thursday” wasn’t the result of associates quitting; some firms are furloughing their associates.

      The question remains: why would Gen Y want to work at biglaw, or anywhere else that puts value on a person’s time rather than her results?

      What value could anyone put oncould anyone offer you for an hour of your time that would accurately reflect its value to you?

      • If we changed the paradigm, from Biglaw to crim law, would you tolerate a kid who failed to show for arraignment because he had something more important to do?

        We differ on whether new lawyers should hang a shingle or gain some experience first, but the dissatisfied Biglaw type associates aren’t interested in our type of practice, or they never would have gone that direction in the first place.

        Given that, they have no zeal to do what we do, being more interested in their lifestyle than defending the accused, would they be good candidates for CDLs? At best, you’re inviting a new bunch of Ollie’s to join the club. They theoretically could do it, but we wouldn’t want them, and they would be the ones we hope to get rid of because of all the harm they do in the process.

        They have boxed themselves out of the profession, unless we want a bunch of lawyers whose primary purpose in being a lawyer is to get home for dinner.

        Maybe they have a future in real estate closings? Oops, that business isn’t too hot at the moment either.

        • Yes, most of them are doomed to fail miserably etc. etc. etc.

          I really think the problem might be encapsulated by, “we can go work for someone that knows how to motivate us.” They’ve had the privilege of seven years of education that most people never get, and they’ve received a license to change society. If they still need someone to motivate them, then being someone’s oxen is all they’re good for.

          • Perhaps, motivate was a poor choice of words. If I hate my job, I don’t feel motivated. But I am still inspired to do the work that is meaningful. It’s not a question of motivation = drive, but motivation = anticipation of meaningful work. The ‘unmotivated’ individual has the drive, but wants to apply it toward what they find meaningful.

            A short circuit in the language that’s all. What is probably meant is working for a firm that takes advantage of skills offered for the purpose they were acquired in the first place.

  3. Hang out a shingle too soon and you’ll be committing malpractice on a daily basis. Not to mention the fact that a young lawyer hanging out a shingle will never in their life get the kind of clients the big firms have that support the large firm structure. Telling a young lawyer that they can go out on their own and do anything close to what they’d be doing in a big firm shows a complete lack of awareness of what civil firms are.

    And I’ve never seen anyone as picky about work product or goal driven as big firms. Sure, they want to make money and there are billing minimums. But to say they value time over quality also shows a lack of understanding at how they work.

    • Hang out a shingle too soon and you’ll be committing malpractice on a daily basis.

      What on Earth do you base that opinion, or any of your other half-cocked opinions, on?

      Lots of lawyers hang out shingles right out of law school and, with mentoring, do great work for all of their clients.

      Young big firm lawyers aren’t doing a whole lot of real lawyering.

      Every big firm had to start somewhere.

      And doing good work is how the hourly-billing firm justifies continuing to bill. It’s the means, rather than the end.

      • Same place you get yours? From my personal experience. Just because the opinion is different than yours doesn’t mean it’s half-cocked.

        Anyone who encourages brand new lawyers to go out on their own should basically be shot. They’ll do the wrong thing more often than not, and learn bad habits that stick for years, if not for their entire career.

        You’re assuming there’s an effective mentoring program out there, or that many lawyers have even a single mentor.

        Yes. People charge for their work. But big firms are ruthless withtheir work product. I’ve seen good billers fired for sloppy work. Anyone can bill hours. Not everyone can bill for good work.

        • Just because the opinion is different than yours doesn’t mean it’s half-cocked.

          Anyone who encourages brand new lawyers to go out on their own should basically be shot.


          • “Anyone who encourages brand new lawyers to go out on their own should basically be shot.”

            By your train of thought then, anyone that allows a new doctor to attempt his trade, or a fireman should be shot as well? How is a new lawyer any different? If someone with a new, shiny JD feels they can best invest their time and interest in going it alone straight out, then by all means do it. Might get some of the older ‘wiser’ guys to take notice. Too often we see the big firms turn down cases they do not think are wins, or that might create too much work, in favor of the sure thing, if ever there is one.

  4. I think you fail to consider that junior associates at many big firms make as much as successful, established criminal defense lawyers — if not more. Junior partners often make several times what good CDLs make. Senior partners … fahgeddaboutit.

    That said, it isn’t a route I ever wanted. Anyone not willing to sacrifice the top-eschelon paycheck for a career that interests them might have to settle for a job they merely endure. Having it all is a great goal, but an utterly adolescent demand.

    Moreover, I can’t say I haven’t had lots of cases that involved heavy degrees of drudgery as well. Sometimes, HUGE degrees of drudgery. That goes with the territory. Anyone who can’t take that better have really good connections as a rainmaker; few people out of law school have that sort of connections, unless they have a last name like Rockefeller, Bush, etc.

    • These are people who like to pretend that they’re more interested in lifestyle than in money.

      I haven’t had lots of cases that involved heavy degrees of drudgery. Even document review is compelling work when it’s toward the end of saving someone’s life.

      • And there are people who DO put quality of life and personal integrity over money. Including doing work they care about, instead of work they have to endure.

        All but a very few good CDLs could have chosen big-firm careers, that would have been dramatically more lucrative. I know I could have — and yes, I do have a twinge of jealousy when friends of mine who took that path get more in a annual bonus than I make in a year. But it isn’t the life I want — and in spite of the twinge, I don’t regret making the choice I made.

        I’ve got a friend who is a musician, who turned down a second audition for a major role with Disney, because they wanted control over what she could record, play, etc. So she puts out “local” records, and plays music she is proud of.

        I’ve got another friend wno has gone “of counsel” for a major law firm, working less than half what she used to, because she just didn’t want to do the hours any more.

        Er, Yes, Mark. There are people who put quality of life, and personal integrity, over money.

        BTW, occupational licenses are drudgery — but I do them, because my clients need them. Anything having to do with Admin Law I find drudgery. But I do mainly appeals, which can get pretty heavy on the drudge scale.

  5. Gen Y or whatever will never be happy at big firms for the same reason all the previous ones weren’t–they suck. It is a soul sucking excercise. If someone “meaningful” work, then they damn sure shouldn’t look at a big law firm. Those places are mills for billing hours and nothing else. Anyone that tells you otherwise is either delusional or has some sort of mental defect. When a lawyer at a big firm tells you he likes it, what he means is “I like the money.”

    Billing hours because your client doesn’t want to pay someone that they damn sure owe money to will never lead to fulfillment of any kind.

    • There is a weird cross section of people who enjoy and flourish in big firms. Their personalities are better suited to middle management than lawyers. They are essentially management employees of their clients–engaging in business decisions more than legal ones.

      That doesn’t mean their work isn’t valuable or worthwhile to their clients, or that they cannot derive some satisfaction from a lifelong career in that type of firm that just so happens to pay very well.

      You continue to compare apples to oranges, however. You have in your mind what “the practice of law” means, and it is vastly different from what a big firm does. Just about anytime you have a definition framed by a difference in values (i.e., only serving individual clients with their individual problems is worthy of the profession), then you will never see eye to eye. It’s somewhat akin to George Bush and Teddy Kennedy trying to define a good American.

  6. A good friend hung his shingle right out of law school. He’s very successful and does a great job for his clients.

    In law school, there were certain people I knew the first semester that were going to be fantastic lawyers – even if started their own practice right out of law school. You have to be willing to fail. If you have the balls right out of law school, just get a mentor or three. You’ll do fine. You have to start somewhere.

    I had lunch with a second year law student today. He plans on opening his own practice. He is an independent thinker. He is clerking for a friend of mine doing personal injury. He’s going to do just fine. You have to have the right mental attitude, self confidence and do like Napoleon did…when you are outnumbered and all the odds are against you – as soon as the troops are off the boats – you order the boats to be burned.

  7. S.O.

    One thing to keep in mind about doctors, they aren’t given three years of theory courses and sent out into the world to ply their trade however they see fit. Residency is at least supposed to provide supervised practical training. The practice of law is structured in a much different manner.

    I don’t know for a fact that firefighters go through a probationary period but I would certainly expect that they do.

    The disconnect between law school and law practice is one of the perennial complaints I’ve seen on sites such as The Volokh Conspiracy.

    • Interesting debate, but if you go to a law school like Baylor that teaches the nuts and bolts rather than theory, you come out a step ahead of the rest. I was with a big firm for 6 years, and going out on my own was the best step I ever took because the clients I had trusted me rather than the firm, and came with me when I left. It has been a very rewarding experience being solo. I dig it like crazy despite the fact that I will be sitting here on Saturday night working on Quick Books instead of going out dancing.

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