Young Lawyer Working Conditions – A Cause Worth Fighting For?

A refreshingly frank and eloquent consideration of the state of remuneration in the legal profession for young lawyers and their workload. Also discussed is the general young lawyers attitude towards their work and guidance from their senior lawyers.

Classified as the Gen-Y lawyers, i.e. usually those born in the 1980’s to 1990’s, we are more often than not, labeled as ‘troublesome’. Amongst the biggest complaint made is that we require astronomical gratification but minimal workload. With due respect to all employers, I beg to differ.

Admittedly, there are some bad apples out there. However, that shouldn’t mean all young lawyers have the same mentality. In this article, I will attempt to decipher and analyze whether the working condition of young lawyers is a cause worth fighting for based on two commonly highlighted issues.

Remuneration to commensurate with our work

We are not asking for astronomical pay but a pay that commensurates with our work. My contemporaries are still getting a remuneration package that is slightly more than the remuneration of young lawyers in the 1990’s. Employers should take note that the inflation rate in the past 10 years had shot up, quite tremendously I would say. To be getting paid slightly more than what the lawyers are getting in those days, would seem a little atrocious (to put it mildly!).

And there are those who slogged way past their working hours (no, not 7 – 8 pm but 12 – 2 am) nearly everyday; surely those would warrant higher remuneration compared to the usual market rate. Again, most of these young lawyers are not requesting for a pay double or triple the market rate, but a financial sum approximate to their workload and responsibilities.

Some might argue that it could be due to the inefficiency of the young lawyers itself in managing their workload and working hours. That statement may be true to a certain extent, but not necessarily the complete truth. Most of the young lawyers I spoke to are competent and efficient. However, perhaps due to their competency and efficiency, more work will be assigned to them resulting in a heavier workload. End result – still working long hours. Undeniably, this group of young lawyers will benefit in the long run, in terms of experience and skill, but that should not detract from not being rewarded in the short run.

In a nutshell, the young lawyers are fighting for remuneration that commensurate to their workload and for some, at least a fair reflection of the market rate. Let’s face it; it’s a fact that remuneration, despite not necessarily the first consideration for a job, is an important element. Those underpaid or overworked (notably, the competent and efficient ones) will then venture into foreign jurisdiction, for a pay that actually commensurate to their work.

Better supervision and guidance

Without a shadow of doubt, we are now employees and no longer students. Therefore, presumably we should know our stuff well. Bosses are not there to teach us because teaching should be done in universities.

I do subscribe to that line of thought. To me, the problem with most of us is that we have always been spoon fed, education wise, which inadvertently reduces our ability to think outside the box or act without instructions. Most of us, the Gen-Y lawyers, are guilty of such problem. Without trying to blame any parties for such deficiency, we should strive and work extremely hard to eliminate such mentality in us. Employers should bear in mind that only miracles can provide instant solution to this issue, no matter how frustrating it may be. Otherwise, it will take some time for us to eliminate such mentality in us. I would term such period as ‘cushion period’.

Now, most of us are not asking to be spoon fed or to be told what to do, from head to toe, in the tasks assigned to us. As mentioned earlier, teaching should be done in universities and we are employed to work, not to learn. Nevertheless, unless the education system can be overhauled, the same problem would still exist.

Therefore, no matter how hard we attempt to eliminate the spoon feeding culture in us, there would still be a cushion period. Most of us are not requesting for complete guidance and an A-Z write up of our work, but some form of guidance and supervision would be necessary. Considering the complexity and the high liability of the nature of our profession, some form of guidance and supervision will minimize incidents of negligence. Contrary to popular belief by some, such guidance and supervision will not result in us being overly dependent but the pointers given will prompt us to analyze and indirectly, train us to think and work independently.

Fortunately, some of us (me included) are well guided by our bosses, which certainly assist in us adapting to the ‘working independently’ and ‘using our brain to think, not regurgitate’ cultures. With proper guidance and supervision, we would be comforted that we are on the right path in our career and not adopting the wrong practices in this trade.

One must remember, and I must reiterate, that guiding IS NOT spoon feeding. As much as spoon feeding is frowned upon, most young lawyers are definitely against it, we are merely fighting for better guidance and supervision in our work, especially during the cushion period.

Conclusion

Based on the above arguments, I firmly believe that the fight for a better working condition for the young lawyers is a cause worth fighting for.

However, in our endeavors to fight for a better working condition for the young lawyers in the country, we must not ignore the fact the need for us to improve ourselves. On one hand, the complaints that the quality of younger lawyers are declining should not be brushed off when we. On the other hand, we complain that the employers are not listening to us. We must change our mindset that it is a given right for us to have a better working condition when we are not first worthy of it. As much as we yearn to be treated fairly by our employers, we must be fair to them as well. By increasing our competency and improving our attitude, the arguments put forth that we do not deserve the cause we are fighting for would not hold water.

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Posted on 7 January 2010. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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7 Responses to Young Lawyer Working Conditions – A Cause Worth Fighting For?

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Young Lawyer Working Conditions – A Cause Worth Fighting For? | LoyarBurok -- Topsy.com

  2. kenneth

    Well, i understand what you meant by the above, on trying to look at the perspective of the employers. Perhaps, what i am trying to point out is maybe the employers do also try to look at the perspective of the employees. It cuts both way. Saying that, i am sure in the above article, I do support the motion that young lawyers should not just whine and expect things to go their way, but to improve themselves and to change their mindset as well, only then, we will truly deserve what we are fighting or asking for.

    As for definition of Good lawyers, i supposed it is pretty subjective. No one i suppose, maybe some, will come out straight from universities as good lawyers. The qualifications obtained are merely academic and most of the good lawyers became good, due to hard work and also experience in the field. To say that firms are only looking for good lawyers, would be a strong statement. I believe, a lot of the firms are looking for young lawyers whom have the right attitude, more than having excellent education (though it is a plus point). My point simply such, the employers need to look from our perspective and we on the other hand, have to improve ourselves.

    But, I do appreciate your comments and your views. I definitely understand where you are coming from, and obviously the young lawyers need to up the ante as well.

    On a separate note, this is the problem with the politicians in the country, not being able to agree to disagree, and not being able to engage in a proper discussion – hence the issues in the country.

  3. the original ultrama

    Thank you Kenneth for your response.

    May I point out that your comparing my challenge for young lawyers to get out of the firm and start on their own to the call for all "pendatangs" to go home is way out of line. You have failed to find a good analogy to support your argument.

    The challenge to leave the firm and start on your own is a challenge for young lawyers to look at their complaints from the viewpoint of employers. The "pendatang" call is a racist call uttered by some stupid zealots and bigots who do not have anything else to say other than cling to races and religions in order to pursue their political agenda. Both calls are totally different in nature.

    On your observation that firms are always looking for lawyers, I think you are perceiving it wrongly. I have friends who own big firms. They are always looking for lawyers. But not for any lawyers. They are always looking for GOOD lawyers.

    Many who are in the job market do not cut it! Good young lawyers are always sought for and they are well paid.

  4. kenneth

    Dear original ultraman,

    Thanks for your response to the article. Perhaps i shall endeavor to reply to your comments in detail, as i take great interest in your opinion.

    "So, according to you, the situation is this. As students, you were always spoon fed. You want your employer to guide you and supervise you most of the time if not all the time. But the you also want “gratification” which “commensurate” with your work.

    According to you some of you worked till late at night."

    No, if you note my article, i did not say that the employer should guide and supervise the younger lawyers most of the time, if not all the time. What most of the younger lawyers are requesting, i believe, is just some pointers to the right path, not so much on the substance itself, but perhaps some pointers from the experience of the partners etc. There would be a huge difference between what you understood and what i meant.

    When i mean gratification that commensurate with the work, i am not giving an opinion on the standard remuneration itself, but there are some whom are earning less than RM2,000 in KL. That i do strongly believe, is something worth looking for. Again, i reiterate, this is more for situation when one is getting paid the same as 10-20 years ago, or maybe slightly more.

    "You don’t offer anything extra. You want guidance and supervision. But you also want good pay. Isn’t the supervision and guidance that you crave a specie of the spoon feeding that you were accustomed to in the uni? And for those who stay till late night, do you work smart? Do you stay as such because it is necessary or is it because you have to spend more time at your work due to your own incompetence?"

    I do reiterate that guidance and supervision does not equate to spoon feeding. Refer to the article and my first explanation above for further clarification. In my article, i do state that the younger lawyers should be remunerated to commensurate with their work, not astronomical amount or good pay. I do not think it is too much of an asking, especially more so for those earning the same amount as 10-20 years ago.

    As for working late, there are obviously two school of thoughts. One being, perhaps the person is not efficient. Another is that the person is too efficient, hence were given more work etc. Like i say, its two side of the coins, and you cant argue that because there are some who works late because of being not efficient, everyone is the same. I believe, my point, is more towards those whom are efficient and competent, yet work long hours due to their over efficiency and competency. I hope that explains, if not, refer to the article again.

    "Your pay is low? Lemme tell you why. It is called market force. There are far too many of you mediocre young lawyers and not many employers who require your services. It is a case of supply exceeding, in many folds, demand.

    Get it?

    If you are not happy, get out. Go and open your own firm. Find the business/work. Then you can employ young lawyers like you and pay them handsomely.

    See whether your hair wouldn’t grow white every middle of the month."

    I do agree with the statement that there are too many mediocre lawyers out there. However, that doesn't mean that because of that, everyone out there should be classified as mediocre. And i do not actually think that supply exceed demand. If you do look around, most firms are always looking for people, because more and more people are getting disillusionised with the profession and left.

    As for your last statement, if you are not happy, get out, i think that is a statement that unfortunately crept to a lot of the upper echelons, more so, politicians. Quote 'Kalau u tak suka, u keluar dari negara ini'. Please note that i am not raising any unsubstantiated arguments nor unreasonable claims. And because we are not happy about it, we should learn to raise it, and discuss and solve it diplomatically. That is the way forward, both in the legal profession and in the country especially, which unfortunately a lot of people failed to understand.

    I do reiterate here that, the article reflects what most young lawyers feel or think, not mine personally, because as indicated in the article, i am getting decent remuneration and i have proper guidance, note – not spoonfeeding, from my bosses. What i wished to point out is that, the remuneration of those whom are getting what young lawyers are getting 10-20 years ago, should be reviewed and also that the young lawyers should also be guided to a certain extent.

  5. the original ultrama

    So, according to you, the situation is this. As students, you were always spoon fed. You want your employer to guide you and supervise you most of the time if not all the time. But the you also want "gratification" which "commensurate" with your work.

    According to you some of you worked till late at night.

    Okay, here goes. Tough!

    You don't offer anything extra. You want guidance and supervision. But you also want good pay. Isn't the supervision and guidance that you crave a specie of the spoon feeding that you were accustomed to in the uni? And for those who stay till late night, do you work smart? Do you stay as such because it is necessary or is it because you have to spend more time at your work due to your own incompetence?

    Your pay is low? Lemme tell you why. It is called market force. There are far too many of you mediocre young lawyers and not many employers who require your services. It is a case of supply exceeding, in many folds, demand.

    Get it?

    If you are not happy, get out. Go and open your own firm. Find the business/work. Then you can employ young lawyers like you and pay them handsomely.

    See whether your hair wouldn't grow white every middle of the month.

  6. Loyar Bagus

    Agree with all this – I'm not even going to talk about the salaries on offer overseas, even on our doorstep in Singapore. Could you imagine if US and Magic Circle firms were allowed to establish themselves here. The local firms would really need to get their act together in terms of recruitment, remuneration and retention.

    But I get ahead of myself because if clients aren't willing to pay higher rates locally for legal work, the overseas firms aren't going to move in, local partners will want to keep their distributions on an ever-increasing curve and the status quo will remain.

    Perhaps this is time for young Malaysian lawyers to vote with their feet and take their careers elsewhere until local law firms learn to treat their minions like human beings and not base commodities. Screw market protectionism, screw the exploitation of the workers.

  7. i dont think that it is an issue of the competency of the lawyers.

    it is the industry that is to be blamed. legal fees have not seen an increase in many many years and those who grew up in the industry earning pittance justify the pittance that is the scale of remuneration of present times.

    i heard the allowances of chambering students have gone up in the past few years. i heard my colleagues of similar standing whining to say that they have to fork out so much for a pupil. but i am happy. sales people earn better than the lawyers and have better perks like company cars, medical, dental and multiple month bonuses. in our industry to dream of one month bonus if at all is all that we dare.

    here is to better allowances , better salaries and better perks in the industry.