Young Legal Eagles’ Great Expectations

I was forwarded an article from the Singapore Business Times with the above title and it really struck a chord with me. I think the first part of the article really rang true. The writer is a partner at the Singapore law firm ATMD Bird & Bird LLP. Rather than having a younger lawyer write the article, which may then be dismissed by more senior lawyers as another whine and gripe from a Gen Y lawyer, at least the article was written from the perspective of a managing partner.

I’ve set out the first part of the article below:

When I started working as a lawyer in Singapore in the 1980s, there was a lovely senior English gentleman lawyer whose office was in the building next to ours in Fullerton Place. I would quite often see him strolling to his office, newspaper under his arm, well after 9 am.

I knew other senior lawyers who strolled out of their offices into their chauffeured cars at about 4.30 pm to get in 9 holes of golf at the club before it got too dark.

I thought with approval that these relaxed hours were the prerogatives that senior lawyers had earned and deserved, and they were career role models who made becoming a partner something to strive for. I had the impression that good lawyers who remained with one firm throughout their professional lives were fortunate, and that too was something to aspire to.

But times changed, and by the 1990s, it was evident that partners in law firms could not rely only on their seniority to retain their position in their firms. Partners must continually demonstrate their value to the firm – seniority and longevity alone were not enough.

Very long work hours became a matter of course. Partners stayed in the office as late as, if not later, than their lawyers. In addition to being technically good at the law, stamina and toughness were valued.

By the early 2000s, when I was managing partner of our firm, we began to notice that quite a number of our younger lawyers were leaving legal practice.

It was not that they were working inordinately long hours – we had a reputation, and still do, for being a ‘family-friendly’ law firm that values work-life balance.

At first we thought that perhaps the younger generation of lawyers were ‘soft’.

It eventually dawned on us that the younger generation of lawyers were making lifestyle choices that had nothing to do with being soft.

They simply had options – they had financial resources (usually from their parents), that meant that they did not have to earn a living as professional lawyers if they did not want to.

We became aware that partners were not necessarily good career role models any longer – partners continued to work too hard, and did not enjoy the lifestyle choices of the younger generation.

Outstanding younger lawyers who were on track for partnership baulked at the prospect of becoming partners, a status that was previously so sought after.

We eventually realised we were not looking at individual quirks, but at a trend. The younger generation was a different breed, and the old assumptions as to what attracts, motivates and retains lawyers did not necessarily apply to them.

You can read the rest of the article here.


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