Lawyers’ Call for Help
I ended last year with a sigh of relief. I remember 2018 for its burnout, stress and lack of motivation in my law practice. The new year starts with its usual hopes and aspirations.
The evolution of law practice is quite predictable nowadays. Change, innovation, legal technology, artificial intelligence, intense competition for a larger slice of the legal work pie, legal fees war, difficult clients and opposing counsel continue to rear their heads.
Practice has changed and yet not changed. Lawyering does not appear to be easy in the future to come. I am glad that I am not going to be part of the longer future in law. The recent concern over the working life of young lawyers is understandable. As I enter into my 23rd year in law practice, I still find practice tough and challenging. So, I fully empathise with the young lawyers of today.
Young and senior lawyers are as different as chalk and cheese. They come from very different worlds. The thought process, manner of communication and attitudes towards life and work are alien to each other.
Having worked with interns, trainees and young associates, I am always curious about the thought process, mind-set and motivation of our younger generation lawyers.
There is no question about their interest, willingness to work hard, helping the clients and carving out their careers. They enjoy challenges, independence in their work and being creative. Law practice is like running a marathon. We need to pace ourselves to allow us to keep running and completing the race. Young lawyers I have worked with start off being very excited and working long hours over a period of time. They then experience burn out, start questioning their purpose, change jobs or quit the profession. They do not enjoy close supervision or being corrected.
Many lawyers nowadays prefer to work in smaller firms, probably harbouring hope that their work-life balance will be better. Often, that is not the case due to the steep learning curve or the need to complete the work for the day. Work never finishes. Although I agree senior lawyers have a significant role in nurturing and supporting young lawyers, the young lawyers must also give serious thought about how they are going to build their careers at the outset and have frank and candid discussions with their bosses.
If such critical but difficult conversations do not happen, the expectations and needs of each party are not met and a good working relationship is not built. Then not much can be done to alleviate the young lawyers’ woes. Regular frank and candid feedback sessions will foster better understanding between the young and senior lawyers.
The generation gap between the lawyers makes it difficult to understand each other’s views, values and beliefs. The manner of lawyering has changed significantly. Spending long hours in the office is no longer necessary with modern technology. Work can be done anywhere and at any time even in the midst of engaging in personal pursuits and spending time with family and friends.
For programmes and initiatives to work better, there has to be a regular and continuous outreach to young lawyers. The Law Society can organise dialogues between the young and senior lawyers to promote better understanding between these two groups.
Another group of lawyers who must not be left out are the 30 something lawyers who are juggling setting up families and law practice. Largely women, it is difficult for these lawyers to be full-time lawyers, mothers and wives. I have great respect for these women lawyers as their burden is heavy and often not fully recognised. Some give up law to look after the needs of the family. Flexi-work or part-time work are attractive options, but are not always feasible for them. The law firms they work in have a large part to play in supporting them. The burden is also on these lawyers, their spouses and their support network to ensure that they are able to maintain their law practice whilst caring for their families.
The senior lawyers’ welfare must be looked into as well. There are many lawyers who are not only ageing but experience health issues. Many of them can be seen trudging to Court. They too need a different form of pastoral care.
As the spotlight is shone on young lawyers and self-care is emphasised, it is hoped the Law Society and the Singapore Academy of Law focus on the personal needs of all the practising lawyers.