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Grads spill on the 'boys' club' legal profession

Grads spill on the 'boys' club' legal profession

The awful ramifications of working in the top tier, added to strong beliefs about social justice, are the key concerns of lawyers entering the profession.

THE awful ramifications of working in the top tier, added to strong beliefs about social justice, are the key concerns of lawyers entering the profession. 

 In an investigation into the issues preoccupying Australia's young lawyers, The New Lawyer can reveal that Generation Y lawyers are struggling to weigh up the lure of commercial law against niche areas of law such as environmental law and animal rights law. 

"There is a growing social consciousness among young lawyers," said May Samali, president of the law society at Sydney University. But many up-and-coming-lawyers acknowledge that commercial law practice offers a good foundation for training to be a legal professional. 

"Top tier firms offer the greatest range of practice areas they also have really good graduate recruitment programs, in that they give you good training and mentoring," said Samali. 

"I think it is a good place to start off, regardless of whether you want to stay in commercial law or move horizontally to other areas." US-based law graduate Aaron Titus is critical of the lure of commercial practice because of concern over work-life balance. 

"The 'big firm' career track was the only option presented to students at my school," said Titus. 

"I never want to work at a big firm, no matter how much they offer. Starting with the bar, the big firm legal profession seems to be one 'good ol' boys club', hazing ritual after another, and I don't have any interest in participating. 

"I have other priorities, namely my wife and kids. I'd rather make $40,000 at a smaller firm, get a broader range of experiences, have more autonomy, and maintain my relationship." 

A Queensland University of Technology law graduate, who asked not to be named, agrees work-life balance is increasingly important to Generation Y lawyers entering the legal profession. 

"It is just not about getting in there and slaving away and not doing anything you enjoy doing with your life," the law graduate said. Bubbling beneath the desire for more work-life balance is law graduates' fear of the onset of depression, and a fear of burning out they enter a big firm after the grueling years of intense study. 

"I am concerned about the high depression rates. I want to see a change in my generation in the work-life balance because this industry has a very bad reputation for that," said the Queensland University law graduate. 

Anxiety about the job market has been tempered by reassurances from law firms that over the long term they will need to recruit young lawyers. 

However, young lawyers in the legal profession remain worried about being first in line for job losses. The New South Wales Young Lawyers Committee held a forum earlier this year on this issue. 

"I think the big firms have learnt from what they did in the '80s and 'we're not going to just get rid of hundreds of our staff and then find ourselves in six or twelve months time not being able to find good staff'," said Louise Jardem, president of the committee. 

"So they're looking at other ways to cut costs so drinks and other accessories rather than cutting staff." 

The fear of redundancy is causing unease in the younger ranks of the profession, said Jardem. 

"But there is still that concern and I think a lot of the younger lawyers are working longer hours and work harder because they don't want to be ones to go if that is the case," she said. 

"And if there are redundancies in the office than obviously someone has to pick up that extra work, don't they? But we're definitely hearing stories about people working in firms where they know redundancies are happening, so it is always at the back of the mind." 

Biwa Kwan is a part time reporter at The New Lawyer.

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