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What tradies can teach lawyers (amidst the ‘quiet quitting’ phenomenon)

In the context of the broader conversation about hustle culture versus “quiet quitting”, there are key lessons that trade workers, such as builders and plumbers, can offer legal professionals.

user iconJerome Doraisamy 12 September 2022 Big Law
What tradies can teach lawyers (amidst the ‘quiet quitting’ phenomenon)
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“Quiet quitting” — the workplace phenomenon in which workers reject the notion of going above and beyond for one’s job and instead do the contracted hours required of them, sometimes without additional effort — has been widely talked about in recent times, not just in law but across the marketplace.

It is a trend that may be occurring in the legal profession, even if — as one professional opined — it isn’t going to be a lasting one in law.

What is relatively clear, however, is that there is a “disconnect” helping drive the supposed Great Resignation in professional services, serving as a “wake-up call” for law firms. That warning to legal employers remains true, regardless of whether the predicted mass exodus has occurred, or it is more of a “Great Hesitation” or “Great Scramble for Talent”.


Speaking recently on Legal Lightbulbs, Bowd chief executive Fionn Bowd reflected on the advent of “quiet quitting”, and — more significantly — whether it will have flow-on consequences for the ways that legal employers operate and if greater accommodation for staff demands will be seen.

This writer put it to Ms Bowd that such evolutions to working conditions, in which employees drive changes to business models for the sake of wellness and vocational purpose, is a good thing.

In response, Ms Bowd opined that whether it is good or not, it is inevitable.

“We mustn’t be in a position where we’re effectively stealing from our employer, and we must never be in a position where we are effectively stealing from the client by billing time that we’re not doing. As long as it’s done ethically, then I don’t think it is bad, in inverted commas,” she mused.

“If it were me, I would feel in a state of perpetual conflict. If I was choosing not to work and finding ways around doing the work, like creating barriers, giving excuses, or saying something that I was doing something else, I would find it actually quite stressful to be in that situation. I don’t think, long-term, that’s very helpful for the individual.

“But, it’s a method of driving change, or driving dialogue, or moving to the next stage of this discussion. I hope it’s not the end of how we try to negotiate this world.”

In reflecting on the advent of “quiet quitting”, and how best lawyers can and should think about their work hours in a post-pandemic landscape, Ms Bowd pointed out that there is much that lawyers can learn from trade workers — that is, those in plumbing, carpentry, construction, among other trades.

“Tradies don’t work 24 hours a day to make up for the fact that there is demand for them 24 hours a day,” she said.

“They are not on our roofs, they are not building houses, they are not working all hours. Even the stuff that doesn’t make any noise, they wouldn’t do it [at night] because they don’t have to.”

Tradies, Ms Bowd said, tell you that they’ll be there on Wednesday, or the following Friday, or in three weeks’ time, because that is what works for their schedules.

Construction companies, for example, may prescribe a nine-month time frame to build a house rather than getting it done in three months, she said, “because that is when everybody is available and that is how many hours people are prepared to do”.

“Tradies have no problem setting boundaries with their working, and they don’t unionise; they’re doing it by themselves individually,” Ms Bowd posited.

“They have no problem setting boundaries about when they’re going to be available to do the work and when they’ll be there.”

Those in trade roles understand, she went on, that individuals hiring them for jobs, big and small, often don’t have the option of getting somebody else sooner.

“This same kind of psychology, this same kind of approach, could just as well apply to legal services,” Ms Bowd said.

“We’ve trained our clients, and we’ve trained the environment and the economy, to expect us to get them an answer, to expect us to give an answer within 24 hours, 12 hours, three minutes.

“Tradies have trained us to expect to wait, right? There is no reason why we can’t do the same thing.”

The transcript of this podcast episode was slightly edited for publishing purposes. To listen to the full conversation with Fionn Bowd, click below: