An X-Gen Lawyer’s Manifesto


As illustrated by the ‘problems’ firms are experiencing with X and Y geners, there has been a global values evolution. These generations are less willing to accept the same incursions on their family and social lives in return for rewards in the future. They are also less tolerant of organisations that fail to give them the opportunity to be part of a larger cause, one that exists outside of a profit motive or the meaningless client service guff that is often dished up.

Andrew Hughes, The Law: All Guff and Discontent?

Inspired by this, Scott Greenfield writes:

The young set sees posts like this expert’s and believes that they are right to demand changes that make them happy and fulfilled.  Older lawyers, who are discontent with the law fail to notice the absence of logical nexus between their discontent and the Slackoisie solution (though they will figure it out soon enough when the college tuition bill arrives) see acquiescing to the demands of the Slackoisie as the path of least resistance.  And everyone looking for an excuse to indulge their weaknesses and self-interest at the expense of their clients will embrace this nonsense.

In a comment to Scott’s post, Dan Hull essays a translation of the portion of Hughes’s statement beginning with “there” and ending with “motive”:

Whoa. Translation: (1) “It’s all about the law firm workers in a services profession or services industry”; and (2) “Clients are merely the equipment in our game. They can be compromised. Don’t sweat it. It’s really all about protecting the new low standards of the young. We can screw clients over by mailing it in–or maybe in between trips to the washroom to shoot up or complain about management making us work for the money”.

As a member of Generation X who long ago rejected a role  as a cog in the corporate machine (had the associates at Sheinfeld, Maley & Kay in 1994 been bloggers, some Greenfieldian curmudgeon would have groused about the summer clerk who asked if the job was fun—as if that matters), I find some truth in Hughes’s quote.  (It does suffer from poor writing—it’s not clear whether the “leadership expert and coach” author thinks that all talk of client service in law firms is guff. I think all lawyers can agree that law firms often pay mere lip service to client service; calling all client service “guff,” though, would be a declaration of war.)

I’ve long considered myself unfit to be an employee. The work-30-years-then-retire ethic of my parents’ generation never caught on with me. Certainty that I’ll never get a cent from Social Security contributes to my unwillingness to sacrifice now for some future retirement Xanadu. Why suffer for some faraway retirement that may never come when I can live well now and in the future?

The idea that I might become redundant at 65 is an abomination. The lawyers whom I most respect are those who aren’t going to stop working till they have to; who, at a sharpminded 70-75-80 years of age, are still doing battle in the courthouse.

So I try to live well now. Work-life balance? I’m all for it. Give me time with my family and my friends and my cars, good books to read and places to travel. Most importantly, let me attend my kids’ shows, and be there when they get home from school, and cook family dinners.

But. . .

But something has to pay the bills, and—since it’s the thing that I’m best suited for, and possibly the only thing I’m suited for—my something is helping people in trouble. The client is, as Dan Hull says, the main event. Without clients there are no cars, books, travel, home, or food. The family is my reason for existing; the clent is my reason for practicing law.

I’m not billing by the hour or by the word; I am paid a flat fee to defend the client as well as I humanly can. When the interests of family and client conflict, the client wins. That is the way it has to be. There will be other family dinners, but this is the client’s only shot at freedom.

Even in practices very different from mine—large firms representing non-human clients at hourly rates, for example—the client has to be the main event and win all conflicts.

What about that work-life balance? Some people are driven to practice more law so they can make more money so they can practice more law. For my part, I create balance by minimizing conflicts between client and family. I do that by taking few cases and charging lots of money. I can afford to take fewer cases for more money because (in a nutshell) I’m lucky and experienced. When I was less experienced, I created the balance I wanted by living a little more humbly.

I think there are two lessons here for the aspiring Y-Gen lawyer.

First, “work-life balance” is a metaphor for what we’re really talking about, which is money-time balance. Forget the myth that people are going to throw money at you for having a JD. You have to give up some of your time for every dollar you earn. The more dollars, the less time you have for your non-law pursuits. The more time you’re willing to give up, the more dollars you have to spend on your non-law pursuits. If you want money-time balance, be willing to accept less money.

If you’re talented or hard-working, your time will become more valuable over the years. (And recognize this: the more time you give up in the beginning, the quicker its value will accrue.) Eventually, maybe, you can live in the nice house and drive the fancy car and be home for dinner with the kids and take family vacations. Or whatever your dream is. But every payment on the car and house is time away from your non-law interests—a greater incursion on your family and social life.

Second—and this is most important—if you’re not prepared to make the client the main event, don’t be a lawyer. There’s no point in being a lawyer who puts the client second.


0 responses to “An X-Gen Lawyer’s Manifesto”

  1. Excellent commentary, Mark. Much of what you are saying is what prompted me to reject–after many years–the law firm route in favor of my own, at this point quite humble, practice. I think associates in large firms simply cannot quite appreciate what it means to strike that money-time balance. They see the absurd salaries being paid to puppy lawyers and assume they are entitled to that, plus a life. I’m all in favor of lawyers having money and a life, but both are a choice as is how much of each you have.

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