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Building a Better Legal Profession: Grassroots Group of Law Students Demands Commitment from Law Firms to Work-life Balance, Mentoring, Diversity, and Pro Bono Work

Andrew Bruck is a 3L at Stanford Law School, one of the nation's best where graduates are recruited aggressively by law firms with high starting salaries. However, Bruck was disturbed by the stories he heard from lawyer friends about 60-hour weeks poring over mind-numbing documents, young associates getting little feedback on their performance, and the small percentage of associates who made partner after years of toil.

Rather than passively accept the status quo, Andrew Bruck and 25 of his classmates at Stanford Law School founded Building a Better Legal Profession, a national grassroots organization that, according to its Web site, "seeks market-based workplace reforms in large private law firms."  This change-minded group is working to influence the employment practices of law firms by highlighting firms' commitment to their lawyers' work-life balance, to diversity, and to professional development during the lawyers' careers.  The organization uses the market power of law students as eventual workforce recruits to influence firms' hiring and retention practices, and the group has already enjoyed some successes, including extensive coverage in the media (see, e.g., this recent article in the L.A. Times). Among the resources it has made available are rankings of large firms in six major markets in the areas of diversity, billable hour requirements, and pro bono participation.

During the last year, BBLP has expanded to other law schools and it now operates a group on Facebook that counts more than 1,000 students throughout the United States as members.  The organization is starting to see results in several areas, as firms

  • provide more flexibility for lawyers who are parents,
  • offer mentorship programs for newer attorneys,
  • change or eliminate the billable hour in favor of fee and compensation arrangements that reduce pressures on associates,
  • evaluate newer lawyers based on the skills they have developed rather than their longevity at the firm, and
  • give employees credit for pro bono service and other firm-related work such as recruiting.

BBLP is a new organization.  It won't reform the work practices of our profession overnight, but its early successes are encouraging.  As more students and lawyers recognize that work is just one component of their lives, we can reduce the amount of stress the practice inflicts upon us and, consequently, do a better job for our clients and live happier, more fulfilling lives.

By Steve Imparl, guest blogger

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Well, honestly, the US is a very litigious society and the profession needs to evolve. A number of mid-size and large firms are looking eastwards to outsource labour-intensive tasks to countries like India and the Philippines at a fraction of the cost. That way, the American lawyers can approach the more challenging aspects their job requires.

I've never been a big fan of big law work hours. When I worked at a mid-size firm that demanded Big Law billable hours while paying mid-size salaries (1/2 what big firms paid for the same hours), I found another job. However, I can't help but wonder whether these law students are willing to take a pay cut, do without staff and work in less "prestigously" decoratd offices to pay for this "balance"? Perhaps this is why outsourcing is on the horizon?

FSUI AbovetheLaw conducted a survey about this very issue - fewer hours/lower pay and 51% of the respondents said yes they'd be willing to accept a pay cut. I don't know the gender split. Frankly I thought it'd be more. I'm guessing too that absence of staff and prestigious office would serve to reduce the percentage.

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