Visions of candied apples dance in their heads

Bloggers weigh in on benefits offered by law firmsHour by hour lawyers sacrifice their lives to serve their firms and their clients in exchange for high-paying salaries and lavish job perks, but a recent New York Times article has some weighing in on the value of those perks.

Statistics show that attorneys have the highest rates of depression and suicide of any profession, and it’s not surprising when their 60- to 80-hour work weeks strip them of personal lives.  Several law firms have resolved that the ramped-up services and bonuses made available to employees will increase job satisfaction.  However, I was disappointed to learn that many benefits are offered not out of genuine care for the workforce, but rather to attract and retain talent. 

“We’re in a war for talent,” Gary Beu, chief human resources officer at the firm of Kirkland & Ellis, said in the report. 

The Times article hit American Madness blogger Josh Friedlander’s hot button.  He chastized lawyers for living in a “state of denial and rationalization,” and Lynnley Browning, author of the article, for buying into the absurd trade-offs between employers and employees in American corporate culture.

I’m sure that law isn’t the only profession in which employees compromise personal time and interests for money, recognition or other benefits.  Friedlander’s rant compels me to lament the American perception of quality of life which has been diminished to the point that workers will accept a year-end bonus and the slightest “random act of kindness” as compensation for time spent away from friends, family and personal joys.

I must mention that it’d be inaccurate to say that all lawyers and other professionals are solely driven by money or reward.  According to Marina Sirras, head of a lawyer recruitment firm, “They want to be able to be able to have a family and enjoy their family.”

However, the fact that people’s desire to be with their families is seen as a “hot issue” is a true testament to the cynicism that plagues our nation.  This is a sentiment that Michael C. Dorf, co-author of Dorf on Law, seems to share, according to his reaction to Sirras’ statement.

“I suppose it’s good news that young lawyers value something other than money. It’s just depressing that this fact is a ‘hot issue.'”

My apologies for cutting this short.  I’ve got a load of school work to get to, but I’ll be revisiting this issue in my next blog post so keep an eye out.

P.S.  Read the Times article, it may help you understand my choice of title. 

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8 Responses

  1. Thanks for the link and the analysis.

    It is a really sad issue. I did not know about the suicide statistics, but they’re not overly surprising. It’s amazing that we haven’t moved beyond these petty issues while every other developed nation offers more vacation time than we do (even the Japanese, from what I’ve read). And when Americans do take any time off, they tend not to know what to do with it.

  2. Priscilla,

    Interesting post. I see a parallel to the life of a young PR professional in the agency world–at least the part about being ‘a slave to the billable hour.’ : )

    But something tells me the job environments are much different and that is why PR agency practitioners are not at the top of that depression list. I haven’t heard of PR folks getting candied apples or yearly bonuses on their desks to help them get through the day.

  3. I find this article to be very interesting and I am looking forward to you revisting this topic in your blog.

  4. I enjoyed this piece as well as the article from the New York Times. I think it’s interesting that the firms are raising the minimum billable hours and they think giving out better food and providing a concierge service will make people want to stay at the firm. But the bigger problem is that those small things will not help someone with depression or
    thoughts of suicide. But why is the topic of families a hot issue? The firms seem to want to sweep the idea of families or a personal life under the rug. Most do not provide childcare or services that would actually benefit someone with a family. Most importantly why couldn’t they just give the lawyers more time off? It seems like they do not want to do something that will actually benefit the lawyers. They just want to provide services in the office to make people want to stay. It doesn’t seem like they are doing any research to see what benefits the lawyers in the firm want.

    My sister is a lawyer in Wisconsin and I feel the field attracts perfectionists and rewards perfectionism. I think that could be a factor in the high depression and suicide rates. To reach perfection they work long hours on difficult tasks. Most of these tasks carry serious consequences like large sums of money or imprisonment.

    There is also the idea of pessimism among lawyers. A Johns Hopkins study in 1990 showed that in all graduate-school programs in all professional fields except one, optimists outperform pessimists. The one exception was law school. I find this interesting because my sister has always said you need to be pessimistic sometimes because you need to be skeptical of clients and opposing council. Depression happens to people, not to professions but these could be some contributing factors as to why there is a high suicide rate in lawyers.

  5. I was surprised to see that lawyers have such a high depression rate. The first thing that I thought of, was other high stress professions such as Doctors/surgeons. The hold someone’s life in their hands. Lawyers, do the same thing in a way. If they are defending someone and they lose, their clients life could be over, either through the death penalty or jail time.

    Today’s society is all about being the best and working the hardest. The typical family dinner setting is now every man for himself as opposed to each member sitting down together and sharing stories from there day. In order to survive the workforce, a person has to keep going and going.

    I think that it is nice to see that young lawyers want to be with their families and arent completely driven by money and power. Shouldnt that be how it always is? It is sad to think that someone wanting to be with family is noteworthy.

    I was slightly reminded of my father when I read this blog. He works all of the time. It is very rare for my father to take time off. He says it is because he is trying to support the family, which for the most part, I feel is true. At the end of the year, he does get rewarded for the vacation days that he did not take, and gets a slight bonus. But it is nothing that will ever replace any missed parties or ceremonies with his family. When he does have time off, my father doesnt know what to do with himself. Society has a major “work work work” mentality.

  6. The high depression rate for lawyers is not surprising, but the lack of response by the corporate firms is. Any profession where employees compromise personal time and interest for money will likely result in a lack of personal space, thus leading to depression. The lack of effort from corporate law firms toward alleviating stress is of a considerable concern. “ Many benefits are offered not out of genuine care for the workforce, but rather to attract and retain talent”. It is unfortunate that many corporate firms take more interest in attracting and retaining talent over offering help for overworked employees.

  7. I was very interested in the article “Visions of candied apples dance in their heads” because I had no idea that lawyers were expected to work such long hours. It was also refreshing to hear their profession spoken of in a good light. Although, I feel that lawyers are not the only ones in the working world who are expected to do more work for the same pay. In fact, my newswriting teacher was talking about this idea pertaining to the journalism profeesion. I look forward to hearing more on this subject. Thank you.

  8. […] I promised, I will touch back on the employee benefits topic that I addressed in my last post.  Visit later this week to read […]

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