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.


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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