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Article in the Toronto Star - "‘Abusive workplaces’ for articling students is becoming a trend that needs attention, report says"

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3 hours ago, thegoodlaw said:

I think you'd agree that that is an anomaly, especially if you're working in Toronto (or any other big city).

Not really. Government, small office, etc. Work-life balance isn't the caveat. My billings are lower, as is my salary, but a worthwhile trade. I was more being tongue-in-cheek where you say that those of us doing the 9-5 can't be hard workers/are entitled. I work fucking hard in a day, with minimal breaks. My articling was like that - breaks were unheard of, with clients/lawyers following me into the bathroom at times (though I did tell off opposing counsel for that). This isn't a race to the bottom either - just because other people have it shitty doesn't mean everyone should settle.

Also, I digress, families that don't see each other are the reason why I am insanely busy. Hmmmm. I take it back - GO OUT AND WORK 100 HOURS PER WEEK PLEASE AND THANK YOU.

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1 hour ago, artsydork said:

Not really. Government, small office, etc. Work-life balance isn't the caveat. My billings are lower, as is my salary, but a worthwhile trade. I was more being tongue-in-cheek where you say that those of us doing the 9-5 can't be hard workers/are entitled. I work fucking hard in a day, with minimal breaks. My articling was like that - breaks were unheard of, with clients/lawyers following me into the bathroom at times (though I did tell off opposing counsel for that). This isn't a race to the bottom either - just because other people have it shitty doesn't mean everyone should settle.

Also, I digress, families that don't see each other are the reason why I am insanely busy. Hmmmm. I take it back - GO OUT AND WORK 100 HOURS PER WEEK PLEASE AND THANK YOU.

I didn't say that those who work 9-5 are not hard workers/are entitled. I said that articling students should disabuse themselves of the idea that anything that is not 9-5 is abusive.

Nor am I advocating for working 100 hours a week. Maybe 60 or 70 at most, with 1 hour of "human" interaction per day. Who needs more?

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On 3/7/2019 at 9:23 AM, thegoodlaw said:

Overall, the reason articling involves stress and long hours is because that is exactly what the practice of law entails. This is not because a "toxic work environment" has been normalized in the profession. It's a simple reality that most lawyers are expected to be on call 24/7, have to work longer than 9-5 out of sheer necessity, and deal with stressful situations purely by the fact that the entire job is about dealing with conflict. 

 

This is not to say that there aren't genuinely abusive articling positions out there. There are. But this view that the entire profession has a disposition towards exploitation is just silly. Insofar as people are complaining to the law society because they think their working hours are "unreasonable" or they are too stressed out, I'd suggest they quit right now because the practice of law is not for them.

-----------------------------------------------

I didn't say that those who work 9-5 are not hard workers/are entitled. I said that articling students should disabuse themselves of the idea that anything that is not 9-5 is abusive.

Nor am I advocating for working 100 hours a week. Maybe 60 or 70 at most, with 1 hour of "human" interaction per day. Who needs more?

 

Yeah, see, but that is in fact toxic. You have drunk the koolaid and are now shilling it around.

The fact is, law firms, especially the kind to expect associates to work consistently 60 hour weeks, are massively profitable. The margins are staggering and the business is pretty much dead simple.

Not only is it not necessary that those employees work 60-70 hours per week, every week, but it's not necessary that most lawyers even work 2000 hours per year. If law firms wanted to, they could have everyone work 30 or 40 hours per week on average ( sometimes those hours would still be bad) and pay them literally 1/2 of the salary that they pay their current associates and come out only slightly behind. The reality here is that law firms want to maximize the amount of revenue per chair or per licensing fee, or whatever the hell metric you decide to use, but the important part is that the only reason this is the expectation is because "the partners aren't going to be hiring any more associates than we already budgeted for" coupled with "the partners get paid according to how much they bill, plus some bonuses for how much work they bring in to the firm".

And let's all stop this shit about law not being for anyone who isn't willing to work those kinds of bullshit hours. Yes, sometimes you will have to work harder, you will have a long trial with dailies and harsh deadlines, briefs due at 9 am in a trial where you just finished at 5:30 pm. Or you might have to put together a deal, or what have you, but in law there's a lot more opportunity to structure your life positively with lots of down time instead of running from tire fire to tire fire dabbing it out with your clients' hundred-dollar bills. 

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52 minutes ago, thegoodlaw said:

 Nor am I advocating for working 100 hours a week. Maybe 60 or 70 at most, with 1 hour of "human" interaction per day. Who needs more?

You're going to be chained to Satan's throne. 

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21 minutes ago, Eeee said:

You're going to be chained to Satan's throne. 

I was joking. I hate humans. That's why I'm a lawyer.

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6 hours ago, Adrian said:

Are you suggesting that paying for someone's work product is exploitative?  

it works like this:

when people refuse to pay me - that's exploitative

when other people ask me to pay them - that's exploitative

when I take other people's money/labour for free - that's called "being normal"

:)

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3 hours ago, celli660 said:

Yeah, see, but that is in fact toxic. You have drunk the koolaid and are now shilling it around.

The fact is, law firms, especially the kind to expect associates to work consistently 60 hour weeks, are massively profitable. The margins are staggering and the business is pretty much dead simple.

Not only is it not necessary that those employees work 60-70 hours per week, every week, but it's not necessary that most lawyers even work 2000 hours per year. If law firms wanted to, they could have everyone work 30 or 40 hours per week on average ( sometimes those hours would still be bad) and pay them literally 1/2 of the salary that they pay their current associates and come out only slightly behind. The reality here is that law firms want to maximize the amount of revenue per chair or per licensing fee, or whatever the hell metric you decide to use, but the important part is that the only reason this is the expectation is because "the partners aren't going to be hiring any more associates than we already budgeted for" coupled with "the partners get paid according to how much they bill, plus some bonuses for how much work they bring in to the firm".

And let's all stop this shit about law not being for anyone who isn't willing to work those kinds of bullshit hours. Yes, sometimes you will have to work harder, you will have a long trial with dailies and harsh deadlines, briefs due at 9 am in a trial where you just finished at 5:30 pm. Or you might have to put together a deal, or what have you, but in law there's a lot more opportunity to structure your life positively with lots of down time instead of running from tire fire to tire fire dabbing it out with your clients' hundred-dollar bills. 

If you have your own practice, there are times you may have to work 60 hours a week (not necessarily all the time) and it is unlikely you will be always able to work 9-5 5 days a week. In your own practice, no one else is profiting or maximizing their revenue - it is what you need to do to serve your clients, meet your obligation to the court, do the admin work of running a business, and hustle for work. So the excuse that you are benefiting rich partners doesn't fly when it is your business, and your ass, on the line.

I am not saying constant 60 hour weeks are necessary and inevitable, but 9-5 may not always be realistic either - there is give and take. 

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3 hours ago, celli660 said:

Yeah, see, but that is in fact toxic. You have drunk the koolaid and are now shilling it around.

The fact is, law firms, especially the kind to expect associates to work consistently 60 hour weeks, are massively profitable. The margins are staggering and the business is pretty much dead simple.

Not only is it not necessary that those employees work 60-70 hours per week, every week, but it's not necessary that most lawyers even work 2000 hours per year. If law firms wanted to, they could have everyone work 30 or 40 hours per week on average ( sometimes those hours would still be bad) and pay them literally 1/2 of the salary that they pay their current associates and come out only slightly behind. The reality here is that law firms want to maximize the amount of revenue per chair or per licensing fee, or whatever the hell metric you decide to use, but the important part is that the only reason this is the expectation is because "the partners aren't going to be hiring any more associates than we already budgeted for" coupled with "the partners get paid according to how much they bill, plus some bonuses for how much work they bring in to the firm".

 

Yeah this is wrong. You couldn’t just swap out associates for day and night shifts. You couldn’t just have 20 person teams on every small deal. Leaving aside the economic efficiency entirely, it would produce countless errors as people had to spend 1/2 their time just catching up on what the other teammates did. 

As an M&A lawyer, I’d rather just put in the hours. The nightmare of trying to handover to make sure everyone worked an 8 hour shift would be absurd. 

My comment is limited to large M&A work, though, since it’s all I have direct experience with.

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I'm not saying firms need to be asinine with their human capital deployment. The problem, as I see it, is that when you have literally hundreds of lawyers in an office, it's hard to imagine that the firm couldn't employ a hundred more to lessen the burden on the existing staff instead of demanding 'more'. As a thought experiment, consider how your firm would operate if instead of setting an expectation that associates or partners bill 1800 hours a year or more, that they were not allowed to bill more than 1800 hours per year.

The mere fact that "document review" is a career trajectory for any lawyer is proof that these opportunities exist and the bare assertion that "if you can't hack working 3100 hours per year, then choose a different profession dum-dum" is at best an endorsement of a broken system and at worst an excuse to belittle people who have a view of life that isn't focused on money, workaholism, or really any feeling of entitlement to actually live the life you work so hard to finance.

With respect to sole practitioners, but nodding especially to the criminal trial lawyers, I can appreciate that the financial aspect of your career is certainly less prominent and the expectation that you work a certain number of hours is more reflective of your desire to be effective counsel than a desire to use your occupation to thrust you into the upper middle class. That being said, you are not target of the "if you can't hack consistently 60 hour weeks, you're not suited to the profession" lines that are flouted at people exiting law school and being subjected to abusive articling environments or 'up-or-out' firm structures.

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28 minutes ago, celli660 said:

I'm not saying firms need to be asinine with their human capital deployment. The problem, as I see it, is that when you have literally hundreds of lawyers in an office, it's hard to imagine that the firm couldn't employ a hundred more to lessen the burden on the existing staff instead of demanding 'more'. As a thought experiment, consider how your firm would operate if instead of setting an expectation that associates or partners bill 1800 hours a year or more, that they were not allowed to bill more than 1800 hours per year.

The mere fact that "document review" is a career trajectory for any lawyer is proof that these opportunities exist and the bare assertion that "if you can't hack working 3100 hours per year, then choose a different profession dum-dum" is at best an endorsement of a broken system and at worst an excuse to belittle people who have a view of life that isn't focused on money, workaholism, or really any feeling of entitlement to actually live the life you work so hard to finance.

With respect to sole practitioners, but nodding especially to the criminal trial lawyers, I can appreciate that the financial aspect of your career is certainly less prominent and the expectation that you work a certain number of hours is more reflective of your desire to be effective counsel than a desire to use your occupation to thrust you into the upper middle class. That being said, you are not target of the "if you can't hack consistently 60 hour weeks, you're not suited to the profession" lines that are flouted at people exiting law school and being subjected to abusive articling environments or 'up-or-out' firm structures.

But billing isn’t just an artificial number imposed from above. You are billing based on how much work there is to do on each file. You can’t always cap peoples’ hours - what if they are halfway through a file assigned to them and they hit the cap? 

Document review is considered low status and tedious because it’s one of the few tasks that can be farmed out. I don’t know if it’s an “opportunity” or “career trajectory” so much as it’s a way to make a living wage and say you’re doing legal work when all else fails, or flexibility is your highest priority. I’m not sure most lawyers would want more document review “opportunities.” 

There are definitely attitudes in criminal law that long hours are expected for juniors or you can’t hack it. In many firms, students/juniors have the after hours phone, go to see the new arrests in the jails on weekends, spend their days in set date court or bail court and their evenings doing research etc.

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Posted (edited)
48 minutes ago, celli660 said:

I'm not saying firms need to be asinine with their human capital deployment. The problem, as I see it, is that when you have literally hundreds of lawyers in an office, it's hard to imagine that the firm couldn't employ a hundred more to lessen the burden on the existing staff instead of demanding 'more'. As a thought experiment, consider how your firm would operate if instead of setting an expectation that associates or partners bill 1800 hours a year or more, that they were not allowed to bill more than 1800 hours per year.

The mere fact that "document review" is a career trajectory for any lawyer is proof that these opportunities exist and the bare assertion that "if you can't hack working 3100 hours per year, then choose a different profession dum-dum" is at best an endorsement of a broken system and at worst an excuse to belittle people who have a view of life that isn't focused on money, workaholism, or really any feeling of entitlement to actually live the life you work so hard to finance.

With respect to sole practitioners, but nodding especially to the criminal trial lawyers, I can appreciate that the financial aspect of your career is certainly less prominent and the expectation that you work a certain number of hours is more reflective of your desire to be effective counsel than a desire to use your occupation to thrust you into the upper middle class. That being said, you are not target of the "if you can't hack consistently 60 hour weeks, you're not suited to the profession" lines that are flouted at people exiting law school and being subjected to abusive articling environments or 'up-or-out' firm structures.

I don't say this to impugn criminal defence lawyers, but it's definitely false to say that students working for solo criminal defence lawyers aren't subject to abusive environments or expected to work long hours. Obviously, experiences vary.  Like all fields, there are good and bad principals in criminal defence. But to suggest that lawyers, working with little or no supervision, aren't sometimes misusing and mistreating their students is wrong. 

Edit: also, your focus is on the long hours that students work at large and profitable firms. I have friends who went to work at those places, and it's not like they were bamboozled. They expected to work between 50 and 80 hours a week and they do. They also make about double what I do, and are under thirty years old. Without sounding victim-blamey or something, I'm a little less sympathetic to those people. 

I am sympathetic to articling students who didn't choose their experience, and are having a terrible ten months. I have other friends who are working big firm hours, but without most of the compensation and without really being taught anything. That sucks. And more importantly, the focus of the Star article was about discrimination and harassment, which is different than expecting to work long hours. Behaviour that falls under those categories is very different, is unacceptable, and wouldn't be solved by hiring more bodies. 

Edited by realpseudonym
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Posted (edited)
2 minutes ago, realpseudonym said:

I don't say this to impugn criminal defence lawyers, but it's definitely false to say that students working for solo criminal defence lawyers aren't subject to abusive environments. Obviously, experiences vary.  Like all fields, there are good and bad principals and bad principals in criminal defence. But to suggest that there aren't lawyers, working with little or no supervision, aren't sometimes misusing and mistreating their students is wrong. 

I once saw a criminal practitioner assault their student (punch in the chest and choke) in the courthouse, so yeah. 

Edited by providence
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12 hours ago, realpseudonym said:

I don't say this to impugn criminal defence lawyers, but it's definitely false to say that students working for solo criminal defence lawyers aren't subject to abusive environments or expected to work long hours. Obviously, experiences vary.  Like all fields, there are good and bad principals in criminal defence. But to suggest that lawyers, working with little or no supervision, aren't sometimes misusing and mistreating their students is wrong

Edit: also, your focus is on the long hours that students work at large and profitable firms. I have friends who went to work at those places, and it's not like they were bamboozled. They expected to work between 50 and 80 hours a week and they do. They also make about double what I do, and are under thirty years old. Without sounding victim-blamey or something, I'm a little less sympathetic to those people. 

I am sympathetic to articling students who didn't choose their experience, and are having a terrible ten months. I have other friends who are working big firm hours, but without most of the compensation and without really being taught anything. That sucks. And more importantly, the focus of the Star article was about discrimination and harassment, which is different than expecting to work long hours. Behaviour that falls under those categories is very different, is unacceptable, and wouldn't be solved by hiring more bodies.  

I wasn't responding to the article in my original reply above, I was responding to goodlaw as quoted. Fair point all round.

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Posted (edited)
22 hours ago, celli660 said:

I'm not saying firms need to be asinine with their human capital deployment. The problem, as I see it, is that when you have literally hundreds of lawyers in an office, it's hard to imagine that the firm couldn't employ a hundred more to lessen the burden on the existing staff instead of demanding 'more'. As a thought experiment, consider how your firm would operate if instead of setting an expectation that associates or partners bill 1800 hours a year or more, that they were not allowed to bill more than 1800 hours per year.

The mere fact that "document review" is a career trajectory for any lawyer is proof that these opportunities exist and the bare assertion that "if you can't hack working 3100 hours per year, then choose a different profession dum-dum" is at best an endorsement of a broken system and at worst an excuse to belittle people who have a view of life that isn't focused on money, workaholism, or really any feeling of entitlement to actually live the life you work so hard to finance.

Hard to imagine will turn into easy to see why. I had a lot of the same questions six years ago.

My firm has no billable targets, soft or hard, at least none that anyone has ever explained or applied, and most of us bill well more than Toronto targets. We work very long hours because our clients do things within timeframes that require a small group of lawyers to be available, and doing things, most of the time. Every associate will tell you there have been times their practice group was short staffed and they could have used a few more bodies. Many will go through periods where they’re on too many matters, but that’s often just because they were assigned deals at times it was harder to predict when everything would get busy. 

You’ll notice no one in this thread is saying that only people who want to bill 2000 a year papering private equity transactions should be lawyers. Even within my world, if you want to start at a less pricey law firm, do compliance/regulatory stuff and bounce to work an in-house compliance officer job by 5th year, you can do all that while barely breaking a sweat. I know commercial transactional lawyers who go home at a reasonable hour, too. They just make a lot less money, like you said. The roles you’re whining don’t exist, do exist, more or less.

There are 9-5 jobs in law. Or, at least, close enough to it. There are other jobs that aren’t 9-5 and you’re wrong on how much of that is a function of toxic choice. The bulk of it is the result of working for clients who get off calls at 9pm and ask for docs (or whatever) by 9am, plus the high likelihood of errors and the practical impossibility of trying to handover work midstream.

**

Now, what you could do, is give everyone 3 months off. You could just cut their pay by some bit over 25% and say each of you work the stupid hours, but for three months each year you get sabbatical. 

The problem with this theory is that there would be far more lawyers than you think who say no, I’ll take the money, thanks.

Edited by theycancallyouhoju
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Plus, I don’t know how to break this news to you, but there are lots of lawyers who are genuinely willing to work those hours for that money. At least for some chunk of their lives. When people say ‘biglaw might not be for you’ to someone who wants to go home at 6pm regularly, that’s not inequitable. 

My experience has been that most people leave about 6-18 months after they stopped valuing the trade enough to make it. That seems pretty reasonable.

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22 hours ago, providence said:

I once saw a criminal practitioner assault their student (punch in the chest and choke) in the courthouse, so yeah. 

Why?

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16 hours ago, shawniebear said:

Why?

Apparently from what I heard they “fucked up a simple fucking task” and are a “fucking moron with your head so far up your ass you’ll never get it out.”

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18 hours ago, theycancallyouhoju said:

Plus, I don’t know how to break this news to you, but there are lots of lawyers who are genuinely willing to work those hours for that money. At least for some chunk of their lives. When people say ‘biglaw might not be for you’ to someone who wants to go home at 6pm regularly, that’s not inequitable. 

My experience has been that most people leave about 6-18 months after they stopped valuing the trade enough to make it. That seems pretty reasonable.

Even if I took everything you said on face value, that's still not the profession.

The original and most damning comment that I replied to was " Insofar as people are complaining to the law society because they think their working hours are "unreasonable" or they are too stressed out, I'd suggest they quit right now because the practice of law is not for them. "

That's not the same as 'biglaw might not be for you' and that shouldn't be the metric that we put everyone to in any event. Law is flexible and demanding at the same time, so that yes people can and will self-select into or out of those kinds of roles or workloads. My point remains that lawyers should not tell people that they should give up on their chosen career because they and their colleagues like to work ridiculous hours every year week in and week out.

 

 

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I am sympathetic to the argument for lower hours, but a lot of times lawyers are simply not fungible. It is difficult to carve off many tasks since everything is so fact specific and the volume of material is massive for large files. 

That being said, I would suggest that this only means that the practice of law will require high hours at certain points. The problem with biglaw is that they will require you to work high hours all the time then spike it to crazy hours.

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38 minutes ago, celli660 said:

Even if I took everything you said on face value, that's still not the profession.

The original and most damning comment that I replied to was " Insofar as people are complaining to the law society because they think their working hours are "unreasonable" or they are too stressed out, I'd suggest they quit right now because the practice of law is not for them. "

That's not the same as 'biglaw might not be for you' and that shouldn't be the metric that we put everyone to in any event. Law is flexible and demanding at the same time, so that yes people can and will self-select into or out of those kinds of roles or workloads. My point remains that lawyers should not tell people that they should give up on their chosen career because they and their colleagues like to work ridiculous hours every year week in and week out.

 

 

I’m not sure I get the point. If the issue is specifically with biglaw hours, then why is anyone complaining to the law society or anyone else about their hours? Just avoid or quit biglaw and find a job with better hours. If the complaint is legal hours in general, it depends what the complaint is. If the complaint is that law is not 9-5 and I want a 9-5 job, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to respond that it is highly unlikely to find a legal job that is consistently 9-5 and law may not be for you. 

But this complaint was specifically about articling hours. Your hours when articling are not necessarily representative of what they will be in practice, and your hours when you are just starting in practice are not necessary representative of what they will be when you are a few years in. Law is a long career and, like most people, students tend to forget about this and focus on the here and now. 

Students need to spend more time to learn their job, and things that will become routine take longer. Students also have less bargaining power with their employers because they haven’t yet demonstrated their worth. I am not justifying overworking or abusing students, but I am saying that their perspective as to what are reasonable hours or what is abuse may not be terribly reliable. 

That being said, I do have concerns about unsuitable principals, incompetent students and too many law grads, domestic and foreign, for available decent articles, which I think is the real problem. 

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