Sunday, February 11, 2007

3Ls Looking for Articling Positions Part 2

(Normally I reply to comments within the comments section, but this one became so long that it deserved a separate post.)

Thanks Lawgurl (nice blog, BTW) and all the others who have shared their insight! I agree: to a certain it is due to programing and cognitive dissonance. My main concern is for the students who say "just for a few years and then I get out." They want to pay off their debt and have the street-cred from working at a big firm, but they have dreams of changing the world for the better. (Incidentally, I was at a cocktail party and I mentioned to a Partner that I was interested in positive social change and she dryly shot back at me, "we don't do that here.")

My concern is that, gradually, the firm culture takes over and the students never realize their dreams. Patrick J. Schiltz wrote a letter to law students chalk full of sound advice (I've added the bold):
After you start practicing law, nothing is likely to influence you more than "the culture or house norms of the agency, department, or firm" in which you work.

No one will tell you, as one lawyer told another in a Charles Addams cartoon, "I admire your honesty and integrity, Wilson, but I have no room for them in my firm." Instead, the culture will pressure you in more subtle ways to replace your values with the system's.

Here is an example of what I mean: During your first month working at the big firm, some senior partner will invite you and the other new associates to a barbeque at his home. This "barbeque" will bear absolutely no relationship to what your father used to do on a Weber grill in your driveway. You will drive up to the senior partner's home in your rusted Escort and park at the end of a long line of Mercedeses and BMWs and sports utility vehicles. ... You and the other lawyers will talk about golf. Or about tennis. After a couple hours, you will walk out the front door, slightly tipsy from the free liquor, and say to yourself, "This is the life."

In this and a thousand other ways, you will absorb big firm culture --a culture of long hours of toil inside the office and short hours of conspicuous consumption outside the office.
This situation, we are told, leads to stress, alcohol and divorce. And, in my view, it starts even before law school begins.


At 1:44 PM, Blogger Lawgurl said...

My main problem with the "just for a few years to pay my debt" rationalization is that I just don't think it is realistic. Yes, you may be making double the salary of your peers at smaller firms, but you are also expected to wear the suits from Holt Renfrew, live in the classy condo in Yorkville, and drive the Mercedes to and from the office. By the time you add in these additional expenses, are you really that much farther ahead of your peers in paying off your loans? I'd think that you are more likely to find yourself with the same amount of debt, plus mortgage and car payments that you can't really afford!

At 2:28 PM, Blogger a blawger said...

I agree. It can be a slippery slope (that could also be described as a corporate treadmill in the rat race).

That said, to some the role fits like a glove. To those people, I wish them the best.

At 3:22 AM, Blogger BabyBarista said...

Like the blog. I've added a link on my own which is a fictional diary of a pupil barrister in England (see Cross links much appreciated though no worries if not. Best wishes, BabyBarista

At 2:15 PM, Anonymous Hong said...

Maybe it is the people who work at the big firms who make up the corporate culture. That is not to say that it is impossible to do what you want when you have pressure to fit in at a huge firm. Impossible is nothing remember?

McCarthy Tetrault and Faskin Martineau are two big law firms who actually participate in a lot of community and out reach programs.

I think the problem is not the firm culture, but it's actually the young up and coming lawyers who often forget their dreams of making a world a better place because they get swept up in the hype.

At 4:17 AM, Anonymous JT said...

A Guardien ad Litem attorney in Florida starts out at 28k. Maybe the difference in pay is merely a reflection of what American society values. I grew up in Italy, where one of the most respected professions was being a teacher. Again, isn't that just a reflection of what society values?
Your ultimate career choice, in the same way, depends on what you value: money, life style, your soul. In the end, the cost amounts to be the same for all, in one way or another--whether it's a broken marriage for an expensive car or a beautiful life with your husband in a Camry.

At 11:47 AM, Blogger a blawger said...

Thanks for the comment JT.

Canadian students hear a lot of the high salaries of US firms but we rarely hear about the lower paying positions. For example, I went to a talk on Tax Law in the US and the presenter mentioned that starting salaries in California are up to about $165,000.

You make a good point: it's about choice. We each have limited time and energy - where we choose to focus our lives will influence our happiness and our future.

When I talk about this with other students, a reoccurring theme is keeping options open. Students will take Position X because it looks good on paper and may allow them to do Y or Z in the future (if they wish). We struggle to keep all the doors open.

My question is: to what end? If Z is the ultimate goal, why not go directly there? Then we get into the heavy issues: student debt, lifestyle, societal expectations, family obligations, etc.

In Japan (like Italy), teachers are very highly respected. Unfortunately, North American culture places less value on teaching. Maybe things will change ...

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