Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Practice law for love not money

Yesterday's New York Times featured an essay by James B. Stewart, the author, Pulitzer Prize winning Wall Street Journal reporter and former Cravath associate, called A Law Firm Where Where Money Seemed Secondary in which he wistfully recalls a bygone era in law practice when money wasn't everything.  It's a reminder that the practice of law really has changed, for the worse. I'm not talking about the structural changes taking place today wrought by offshoring and technology that's replacing lawyers and squeezing the job market. Rather, it's that gone forever are the days when young lawyers didn't have to worry so much about maximizing their productivity or accounting for every billable moment in the day. Employers took the time to mentor new associates which often meant new lawyers tagged along on depositions or observed trials where whole days would not be billed. Coincidently, I had the same talk with my students last spring; that the days when when employers cared more about their professional development rather than how much they billed that day are long gone and never coming back. The silver, if not golden, age of law practice is a distant memory

Mr. Stewart also makes the point that those who thrive in practice do so because they have a deep passion for it. With so many reports of depression, substance and alcohol abuse and related mental health problems supposedly rampant among lawyers, one has to wonder how much of that can be attributed to those who have pursued a law degree for all the wrong reasons. An pertinent excerpt from Mr. Stewart's NYT's piece:

The one thing nearly all the partners had in common was they loved their work.

This came as a profound revelation. Of course they worked long hours, because it didn’t feel like work to them. They took great satisfaction in the services they rendered their clients.

You couldn’t fake this. The partners seemed to have some sixth sense. I enjoyed my work. But I had to admit I didn’t love it the way they did.

At times I found this mystifying. How could anyone tackle a complex tax problem with such enthusiasm? Or proofread a lengthy indenture agreement? Why couldn’t I love a prestigious, high-paying, secure job like they did?

At the same time, it was liberating. It was obvious to me that someone who loves his or her work, whatever that might be, has a huge competitive advantage, not to mention a satisfying and enjoyable life. Somehow people who love what they do seem to make a living. So I started pondering what I might love as much as some of my Cravath colleagues loved practicing law.

When I announced my departure and took a big pay cut to become a reporter, I know some of my colleagues took it personally. They felt I was rejecting not just them, but their profession. I’m not sure I was ever able to explain my thinking, but to my mind I was paying them the highest compliment.

Read the rest of Mr. Stewart's essay here.



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Is this really yet another post about the good ole days that never really were? All the partners loved their work? As lawyers? Really? C'mon.

Posted by: Ron Miller | Sep 27, 2012 8:27:34 AM

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