UNABLE TO speak honestly to their colleagues in law firms, a small group of junior lawyers has started a legal blog that they hope will encourage suffering young things in other firms to seek help and support.
The anonymous group of lawyers has started the Junior Lawyers Union blogspot in the hope that they can encourage Australian law firms to help the floundering young professionals they have working for them.
In an interview with Lawyers Weekly, one member of the online union, who said he has a couple of years’ experience under his belt, claimed many young lawyers are facing depression and other stress related illnesses thanks to being overworked in firms of varying sizes across the country.
But the lawyers feel unable to speak out to partners and others within their firms, and are therefore unable to address concerns they have, the young lawyer claimed.
“It’s a very difficult industry to sort of stand up and have your identity known and complain about the conditions of work,” he told Lawyers Weekly.
Speaking to leaders within firms about concerns you have about bullying, inappropriate senior associate behaviour and workload makes a career in law all very difficult, the junior lawyer said.
“It’s a very conservative place. And I don’t want to put all law firms in the same boat, but they’re run generally by an older generation of people whose values are often far more conservative than the junior lawyers that populate the firms. It’s never in your best interests to be a whistle blower inside a law firm, and to have your identity known,” he said.
The consensus among the union members is that HR departments within firms are not useful for those suffering depression, stress, and as a result of bullying. HR, they argued, are powerless under the constraints placed upon them by others within the firm.
“I’ve had experiences in the firm that I work for where I have, for instance, gone to human resources to complain about something, and generally nothing changes. It’s not the fault of HR people; they’re there to put the best spin on the firm. But they’re often quite powerless to do anything about it.”
Arguing that many young lawyers leave firms because their problems and issues are not solved, the bloggers say law firms, which are facing an increasing talent shortage, have a vested interest in paying attention to their concerns.
Despite the efforts firms do make to retain talent, the Junior Lawyers Union believes it is not enough. “I don’t think they’ve changed for a very, very long time. Law firms are in the position that there are so many law graduates they can cull down to what they think are the best students, but they are keeping larger numbers than they’re ever going to need.
“I think what law firms are doing, especially the bigger ones, is recruit a hell of a lot of articled clerks, expect half of them to burn out, and then it’s sort of like survival of the fittest really. So the people that remain are often those that are willing, I guess, to put up with those conditions for the rest of their lives,” he said.
The authors of the blog have now started a campaign to address depression and stress related illness suffered by junior lawyers working in law firms. They have emailed top-tier firms across the country asking that they take action to address what they term an epidemic of depression.
The union is encouraging firms to consider in-house training with specialists in treating and preventing depression for junior lawyers, who they say are particularly prone to the illness because of the pressures and strains they are placed under.
Within the walls of Australian firms lawyers at all levels face “lawyers that will yell, lawyers that will set very unrealistic deadlines, lawyers that will give you work at six o’clock on a Friday night, a serious amount of work that they expect to be done and on their desk first thing Monday morning”, Lawyers Weekly’s source said.
He said he has personally suffered from harassment and bullying since he has been working in the law.
The new expectations of the incoming generation of lawyers also cause some issues and stress, he said. “Many lawyers … just won’t respect the fact that you would like to have a life outside of work, and like to be able to structure your life around work and to be able to make plans with friends that you can stick to.”
He argued that his generation is less willing to put up with certain conditions in the work place and is more willing to move jobs if one is not satisfactory.
“We’re far more willing just to move on and find something that we like. I don’t want to make huge generalisations about baby boomer generations, but people from my parents’ generation had the one job for life. I think we are far more aware of the possibilities of finding happiness in another job. So, we’re more willing to move on, and far more willing to complain if we’re not happy.”