Category Archives: lawyer retirement

Key elements of lawyers’ professional & personal satisfaction (i.e., happiness) identified

OWL FACE FreeGeorge Washington Law Review has published “the first theory-guided empirical research seeking to identify the correlates and contributors to the well-being and life satisfaction of lawyers.” A New York Times blog boiled it down: “Lawyers With Lowest Pay Report More Happiness.”

In short, a lot of lawyers were surveyed in a scientific way. The ones with the prestigious jobs and the high incomes reported lower senses of well-being and satisfaction than less “successful” peers in public service roles. Outrageously, making law review was reported to have ZERO correlation with happiness in later life.

Three elements in professional life were most closely identified with life-satisfaction. They are a sense of competence, a sense of autonomy and a sense of connectedness to others. The study says that for many lawyers (most, I suppose), careers in larger law firms do not deliver these.

Competence, autonomy and connectedness, are the pillars of Self-Determination Theory, a field of study among psychologists for more than 40 years. This new study is the first to test lawyers as a group. Turns out, lawyers test the same as everybody else. They are happiest in settings where they experience competence, autonomy and connectedness. (Disappointingly, we are no different from “non-lawyers.”)

The three factors themselves are worth attention. Notice how they line up with (i) the core principles of legal ethics, (ii) commonly encountered values of many law firms, (iii) often-identified 21st Century social skills, (iv) the capabilities of 21st Century technology, (v) attributes of Millennials in the workplace, and – mirabile dictu – (vi) observations that might be made about North Carolina lawyers practicing in the 19th Century.

This causes me to hold up these elements as “design principles” for next-generation law firms. That is, they might be taken as elements to be fostered in the law firms we will need in the aftermath of the Great Unbundling of legal services now under way. They also suggest directions for thinking about lawyer retirements.

In future posts perhaps, I will pound out the correspondences between the elements of self-determination, and key aspects of the new professional and social culture that is struggling to be born.


New lawyers, old ones and NewLaw — a prediction that the profession will survive

This winter of the legal profession’s discontent.HiRes

Work is down across the profession. Revenues are flat. Job offers are down. Applications to law schools are down. Older lawyers are not retiring, even as the conclusion is being drawn that fewer lawyers are needed, and younger ones are said to be departing the profession for the lack of opportunities. Although paying work is down, the legal services needs of low wealth communities are not met.

But this winter shall pass. Old lawyers will pass. New ones will rise. I predict this.

Maybe, the work of the future will be distributed differently among law firms, law departments and alternative services providers. Maybe, computers will do more of the work. Maybe, law firms will no longer deliver “full service.” Maybe most firms will serve targeted niches and deliver limited modules of service.

Perhaps the practice of law will look little as it once did.  Perhaps lawyers (like doctors and academics) will carry more the mantle of technicians than professionals. Perhaps generalists will be supplanted by specialists — by non-lawyers and service bureaux and by machines.

In the end, the new will rise. So be it.

But there will remain a constant demand for professionals who can bring experience and judgment to legal questions that are complex, uncertain and ambiguous. And this is not work for the institutions of NewLaw. “Classical lawyering” will remain.

And, there will remain those questions posed here several years ago — but repeated now in the words of an observer today.

Most, if not all, contracted lawyers working under the auspices of one of the NewLaw firms are essentially self-employed with the freedom and positive challenges this brings. But they have no security of income, no superannuation, no permanent social work environment, no paid annual leave, no long service leave and, usually, no training and organised continuing professional development.

Especially for young practitioners there is no structured professional education program and no employer-provided training in the basics of practice. And certainly no apprenticeship – the foundation on which the next generation of the profession has been built for generations.

So, when that new day comes and the new lawyers rise, who will have prepared them? Who will have trained them? How will their judgment have been forged?

Today, when experienced lawyers are plentiful, the institutions that might invest for the needs of the future are hard to discern. Who will train, develop, sustain and marinate lawyers for that day? Legal departments? Alternative providers? Or, law firms?

Whither apprenticeship?


Opportunity among the ruins

Opportunity among the ruins?opportunities among the ruins

Change is afoot.

In traditional law firms this demands wakefulness.  In fact, it demands wakefulnesss; a capacity to change; the ability to act; a willingness to invest ahead of coming developments; creative approaches to low-margin work; and an appetite for trial-and-error.

This is a field of opportunities for those with eyes to see.

Watson, the law practicing computer — and the “senior” lawyer

Social-SecurityCan Watson, the law practicing computer, replace lawyers?  Some say “yes”; some say “no”.

At a certain point in your career, it becomes a given that you will be replaced. And, at about the same time, whether you are replaced by a man or a machine starts to be a mere detail.

Can Watson can find a good Medicare Supplement?

Do I dare to eat a peach?