Rhonda Muir, over at the Law People blog has a great post called "What all that money is buying you." Rhonda notes that the somewhat shallow strategy of major law firms in hiring associates, is to through more and more money at them. Law firms compete primarily on wages in order to be a prestigious firm; you presumably have to pay the highest wage.
Of course, those same associates are working seven days a week, 14 hours a day. Those same associates don’t take time off for their children’s birthday or even the birth of their child. Rhonda provides this statistic which says it all.
Has anyone taken note of the American Bar Association survey conducted just this past November? Of the 2,377 respondents (most of whom were between 26 and 35 and had been practicing law for five years or less), 84.2 percent said they'd prefer to work fewer hours for less money. More than 30 percent would like to work 20 percent less and said they'd give up between 25 and 30 percent of their pay in exchange. The next largest group-- 27.8%--would settle for a 10% cut in hours. Did you get that? Associates would prefer to give up proportionally more money for incrementally less work.
Attorneys need to make a fundamental choice when they select their employment. Do they want money, quality of life, earning potential, control, and prestige? There is nothing to say that lawyers can’t have a better quality of life and make more money at the same time. But that, of course, is a function of taking control of your situation. The vast majority of lawyers, especially associates, blindly run for the biggest paycheck when they graduate from law school. I should know. That’s what I did.
And what about the clients? Do clients gain any benefit by having overworked attorneys who hate their jobs. One of the most interesting things I have found as an independent practitioner is something called "breathing room." Breathing room is the phenomena when you get to take a deep breath, look around you and see what is important for you and your client. It is during periods of relaxation that we are best able to provide strategic advice to our clients. Yet, we’ve designed law firms that virtually preclude lawyers from having a moment to take a deep breath. Instead of strategy, clients get hourly bill chalked with busy activity leading nowhere.