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Why ‘quiet quitting’ isn’t here to stay

The overachievers of law won’t stay in the Quiet Quitting valley forever. We’re just taking a breath, writes Wenee Derricott-Yap.

user iconWenee Derricott-Yap 05 September 2022 Big Law
Why ‘quiet quitting’ isn’t here to stay
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Lawyers Weekly recently published an episode of Legal Lightbulbs, titled, “Is ‘quiet quitting’ a good thing for the legal profession?”. Listen to that episode here.

Lying flat. Let(ting) it rot (“Bai Lan”). Quiet Quitting. It’s a phenomenon that’s entered the mainstream of workplace commentary recently, raising the ire of managers, captains of industry, senior lawyers and senior government officials alike.

Why is it so divisive?


You would have to be living under a rock — perhaps you were quietly quitting under a rock? — to have missed the “quiet quitting” headlines sweeping through media and LinkedIn. Other nations, such as China, are experiencing their own version — the “lying flat” movement, or its more rebellious nihilistic cousin, “Bai Lan” — “let it rot”.

Simply put, it’s the concept of doing exactly what your job requires within the hours you were contracted to work.

It’s a rejection of the hustle harder! culture that’s gripped modern work for the past few decades, and the phenomenon of overwork that accelerated through COVID lockdowns. You might have felt it too — that stress-induced high-velocity work that marked the early years of COVID (when we didn’t, at an emotional level, realise COVID would be measured in years, not days or months).

Unsurprisingly, it’s a phenomenon that’s attracted much commentary, often from experienced lawyers.

As litigator Kyle Kimball put it in a LinkedIn post: “‘Quiet quitting’ is emblematic of a growing attitude in modern society which is a trend toward cowardice and a lack of accountability. Have the courage to be upfront with your employer about what your job means to you; you’d be surprised how far honesty and trust help with a relationship. And let your colleagues know too - don’t sneak out on them. Certainly, don’t carry on as though their commitment to building a career and serving clients is somehow a stupid thing to do and they’re ‘being taken for a ride’ if they work harder than you.”

Will it ever, ever end?

Yes. Quiet quitting is a healthy, temporary response to workforce-wide burnout.

But like any good hike, and at your own pace, you may one day want to leave “quiet quitting”. You might want to climb out of the valley.

Personally, I embraced a version of “quiet quitting” halfway through Sydney’s second lockdown in 2021.

Following stubbornly high blood pressure and hyperventilating levels of stress, I left full-time work for a part-time role in a field I’d always wanted to explore. The role required skills I either knew I had or would be well placed to learn with relative ease.

I took my two days off as true days off. I visited (similarly burnt-out, high-achieving) friends for walks along Balmoral Beach, for sun-drenched lunches in the northern beaches; I walked my West Highland White Terrier across the Sydney Harbour Bridge four times in two months, which is more crossings than I’d ever done before.

I didn’t quit on anyone else’s dollar. I worked less, which was a very strange experience for someone who has consistently held three jobs at any given time.

It wasn’t easy; like many burnt-out “HIT squad” types (highly intelligent, talented — a term borrowed by ABC’s This Working Life podcast), I was highly skilled at making relaxing look really hard.

Bit by bit, I found new versions of who I was and what I liked, as a person and as a professional committed to effectively and efficiently serving clients and projects.

The upshot? I now have a broader skill set in a field I’ve always wanted but would never have otherwise cracked — entrepreneurship education through UNSW Founders.

I’ve also returned to LEAP Legal Software, my pre-COVID employer, working under a manager I admire and in a role suited to my cocktail mix of legal start-up skills and growth marketing experience.

Navigating a healthy (and productive) way to work

Australia is in the grip of a skills shortage, which it is navigating alongside a tired workforce. It’s an unenviable position for leaders, who lived through COVID like anybody else.

As Australia fires up its (human) engines, we, as individuals and as a nation, face some interesting choices. Like the rest of the world, we must ready ourselves to deal with the existential issues of our era — climate calamity + stagflation + supply chain disruptions + war and regional tensions.

My period of “quiet quitting” lasted about six months. During this time, I fought my first kickboxing fight, which requires energy and unrelenting focus. (You can’t “quietly quit” when you’re getting punched in the face!)

I also did lots of nothing. I watched every season of Rosehaven, Chopsticks or Fork? and Backroads. Like the nation, I waited for COVID and vaccines, and a world worth waiting for.

I’ve worked full-time since February. I’m a bit fitter. A little more considered. Perhaps quite a bit smarter — because I have more skills to deploy to solve complex problems, and more ways to see those problems so that we might solve them differently.

Most of all, I am a whole lot more fulfilled. Because I learned how to broaden my idea of winning and losing. Taking the time to STFU from the noise — from yourself, and from the wild thoughts and #altfacts of others — is, for me, at least, the chief benefit of mindfulness, meditation or any other version of learning how to be quiet and still.

In the wonderful legal world in which we live and breathe, being a quiet Australian is not often applauded.

But it doesn’t take the genius of Michael Kirby or the notorious RBG to tell you: Happy lawyers do better work. It’s why the work I do has so often centred on tools that free lawyers from stuff that could be automated — by good practice management software, or legal bots, or simplified billing.

Not everything in law needs to be a fight

Call me an optimist, but I’ve found lawyers to be largely misunderstood, often hamstrung by hierarchies, systems and processes. Few lawyers I’ve met deserve to be the butt of a lawyer joke.

However, being happy or fulfilled is rarely, as lawyers, our stated goal. Yet being fulfilled is essential to becoming a truly great lawyer.

Great lawyers are intellectually free to look at a problem from different angles, within and beyond the law — and solve it. Great lawyers are emotionally available to actively listen to clients so as to identify what they really want, and determine how to reasonably meet or manage these expectations within the limits of the law.

Rather than going to war with the quiet quitters of the law, it’s worth seeing it for what it is: a response to planet-wide dying and stress. From there, we’re free to regard quiet quitting as a potential way to live better — and work better — because you are taking the time to know yourself, what you want, and why you want it.

The overachievers of law won’t stay in the Quiet Quitting valley forever. We’re just taking a breath. We know it’s been a minute. But just you wait. As Jay-Z would say, y’all should see what we’re going to do next.

Wenee Derricott-Yap is a client marketing manager at LEAP Legal Software (APAC) and a legal journalist at The College of Law Australia.