find the latest legal job
Senior Associate - Litigation & Dispute Resolution
Category: Litigation and Dispute Resolution | Location: Melbourne CBD & Inner Suburbs Melbourne VIC
· Come work for a firm ranked in Lawyers Weekly Top 25 Attraction Firms
View details
Associate - Workplace Relations & Safety
Category: Industrial Relations and Employment Law | Location: Brisbane CBD & Inner Suburbs Brisbane QLD
· Employer of choice · Strong team culture
View details
Freelance Lawyers
Category: Banking and Finance Law | Location: All Perth WA
· Freelance opportunities through Vario from Pinsent Masons
View details
Freelance Lawyers
Category: Other | Location: All Adelaide SA
· • Qualified lawyer with a strong academic background
View details
Freelance Lawyers
Category: Other | Location: All Melbourne VIC
· • Qualified lawyer with a strong academic background
View details
Rage against the billing machine

Rage against the billing machine

A former managing partner has told Lawyers Weekly that firms are turning lawyers into “billing machines”, and that is possibly contributing to depression.

A former managing partner has told Lawyers Weekly that firms are turning lawyers into “billing machines”, and that is possibly contributing to depression.

Legal consultant Philip Gleed (pictured) spoke to Lawyers Weekly ahead of a Lawyers’ Mental Health Forum in Melbourne on Tuesday 7 May.

Gleed, a former managing partner of Rigby Cooke and Mason Sier Turnbull, has been working within the legal profession for more than 30 years. He said that the Australian legal sector has “largely moved from being a profession to a business or industry”, and that has placed a heavy burden on lawyers to bill more.

“What has crept into the profession over the past decade or more is that we feel we need to be in the office from seven in the morning to well after seven at night,” said Gleed, who has done some consultancy work for the organisers of the conference, the insurance brokerage firm Jardine Lloyd Thompson (JLT). “The work-life balance you should get is not there.”

With a few notable exceptions, timesheets are still the most popular way to measure a lawyer’s productivity at private practice firms. Gleed has noticed that the billable hour and a law firm’s remuneration system have contributed to lawyers moving away from being a trusted adviser to seeing themselves as a “billing machine or salesperson”.

“When you are spending time billing a lot, being a salesman and being a billing machine, it puts you under enormous pressure,” said Gleed. “I am not a doctor but I suspect that is what causes the disaffection with the law, the burnout and, ultimately, the depression.”

Gleed is the latest legal consultant and former managing partner to publicly express concern at modern trends within the legal profession and the effect they are having on lawyers.

The former managing partner of Maddocks and Middletons prior to its merger with K&L Gates, John Chisholm, wrote an Opinion piece for Lawyers Weekly last year that called for the billable hour to be scrapped.

“Recording time, especially in six-minute units, serves no valid purpose whatsoever in any professional firm,” said Chisholm. “Time-based billing is but a symptom of the time-recording ‘illness’ that many in our profession have become addicted to, and it is time recording that is the real cancer in our profession.”

You can push back

The arrival of global law firms has made what was a competitive market in Australia even more concentrated.

Particularly with regard to transactional work, law firms of all sizes have been prepared to slash rates and offer alternate free arrangements.  

Gleed acknowledged that, in the present climate, law firms are often grateful for any work that comes through the door. However, he stressed this work should not be done at the expense of the health and wellbeing of staff.

“I think they do have the clout to do that [push back when a client sets an unrealistic deadline], depending on what workflow they have,” he said.

Looking at the modern legal landscape, Gleed noted that young lawyers entering the profession today have a much tougher time trying to stay healthy and see friends and family.

“The thing I would say is unacceptable is pushing younger lawyers to make those sorts of daily sacrifices – without the balance of being able to regularly leave the office at a reasonable hour.”

Gleed noted that allowing such a workplace culture to develop is not something that firm leaders should encourage or allow to prevail.

“I have contemporaries who openly tell people to go home but, on the reverse side of the equation, I know of firms where a younger lawyer will say to their supervising senior associate or partner ‘is there anything else you want me to do?’ at 6pm – and that person will push that work off to them and expect them to stay until whatever hour it is completed.”

“Those in firm leadership positions need to show strong leadership on that issue, and if that means rearranging workloads or schedules for lawyers, deadlines with clients or sacrificing a degree of profit ... then I think you need to consider that as a firm leader.”

The JLT Mental Health Forum in Melbourne on Tuesday (7 May) is free for attendees.

Keynote speakers include Dr Peter Cotton, a clinical psychologist, and Laura Cropley, the national OHS adviser at Clayton Utz.



Like this story? Read more:

QLS condemns actions of disgraced lawyer as ‘stain on the profession’

NSW proposes big justice reforms to target risk of reoffending

The legal budget breakdown 2017

Rage against the billing machine
lawyersweekly logo
Promoted content
Recommended by Spike Native Network
more from lawyers weekly
Oct 20 2017
Podcast: One of law’s most infamous alumni – in conversation with Julian Morrow
In this episode of The Lawyers Weekly Show, Melissa Coade is joined by The Chaser’s Julian Morrow....
Oct 20 2017
High Court overturns ‘excessive’ anti-protest legislation
Bob Brown’s recent victory in the High Court over the Tasmanian government was a win for fundament...
Oct 20 2017
Changes to Australian citizenship laws blocked
Attempts to beef up the requirements to obtain Australian citizenship were thwarted this week, after...
Allens managing partner Richard Spurio, image courtesy Allens' website
Jun 21 2017
Promo season at Allens
A group of lawyers at Allens have received promotions across its PNG and Australian offices. ...
May 11 2017
Partner exits for in-house role
A Victorian lawyer has left the partnership of a national firm to start a new gig with state governm...
Esteban Gomez
May 11 2017
National firm recruits ‘major asset’
A national law firm has announced it has appointed a new corporate partner who brings over 15 years'...
Nicole Rich
May 16 2017
Access to justice for young transgender Australians
Reform is looming for the process that young transgender Australians and their families must current...
Geoff Roberson
May 11 2017
The lighter side of the law: when law and comedy collide
On the face of it, there doesn’t seem to be much that is amusing about the law, writes Geoff Rober...
May 10 2017
Advocate’s immunity – without fear or without favour but not both
On 29 March 2017, the High Court handed down its decision in David Kendirjian v Eugene Lepore & ...