The Legal Profession and the Venus Fly Trap

Law is still incredibly aspirational and judging by the number of people that are continuing to enter the profession, there seems no shortage of people who see it that way.

The drivers?

  • Make loads of money;
  • Prestigious;
  • Because it makes people feel special;
  • It gives people status in their family and community;
  • It is intellectually stimulating;
  • It is competitive;
  • There is a massive sense of accomplishment in staying the distance and qualifying;
  • Quite a few well known public figures start off in law;
  • The opportunity to travel;
  • Pride in oneself;
  • Working with other smart people.

But – and there is always a but – many people who are now in law are not happy. And this is not some soft concept of they don’t like the pay and working conditions, but rather the dream has turned sour.

  • The money isn’t that great;
  • It isn’t all that prestigious – in fact some would say that lawyers are despised;
  • That feeling of getting your first practising certificate has quickly worn off;
  • People don’t like to mention any more that they are a lawyer – it usually engenders derision or a negative response;
  • It is still quite challenging intellectually but you can see that more of your work is going to go to juniors;
  • Yes it is competitive but it seems ridiculous to compete inside the firm;
  • That sense of accomplishment has turned into the self-doubt of “I think I may have made a mistake”;
  • You would rather not think about public figures because that chimes with all the wrong imagery;
  • You joined a firm that had no overseas presence;
  • You no longer feel a sense of pride and are just glad to get through the day;
  • The people that you work with tend to keep their heads down and even if you wanted to come up with a whizz bang scheme for your client, it is unlikely they would or could afford to pay for it.

These issues are not unique to law and every profession will have its share of people who may feel resigned (or compelled) to remain in the profession because of the stigma attached to admitting that you made a mistake. But with the way in which the training is set up, even allowing for the usual summer placement schemes, more candidates should be permitted to get a real taste of the action before they make the leap of faith to join the profession. And it is not just that the shine will wear off quicker than they think. No. They also have to come to terms with the commoditisation of law, the off-shoring of many of its arterial services, legal process management, on-line provision of services (does anyone want to sit and moderate documents for the rest of their practising days?) and the rise of China and India in the world-wide legal market.

Perhaps a dose of reality should also come with some compulsory training with the not for profit sector where doing good and helping people is far more important – even if that is as simple as writing a letter or making a telephone call.

Those people who regulate the legal profession will no doubt continue to make sure that the bar is set at the appropriate level but most of these issues are innate to the structure and organisation of law firms. Wishful thinking – perhaps cloud cuckoo land for some – but much more needs to be done to abet the very best out of every person in the organisation. This is not some whimsical posit about motivated staff; but rather there is such an abundance of talent out there that is going to waste. Don’t let your firm create another tempting but altogether (un)satisfying Venus fly trap for those unsuspecting newbies.

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