Who wants a work / life balance?
Posted 18 Sep 2015 by Toby Williamson
Up until recently our whole legal system from a career
perspective was geared up to a Darwinian race to the top. Lawyers would work
harder than their colleagues in order to impress the Partners in the hope they
would rise through the ranks of Associate and in time be invited into the inner
sanctum of Partnership.
Depending on the firm this could take a couple of years or
(more likely) more than a decade. Having made Partner the quest was then on to
attain the Holy Grail of a legal career – Equity Partnership. Traditionally the equity shares in the
business have been held by the few – perhaps only 10% of partners in a law firm
holding an equity stake. Attaining equity, certainly at larger firms, meant great
financial rewards and prestige, but usually at huge personal sacrifice – long
hours, stress and financial risk.
Generation ‘Y’ is changing this outlook. They are more
interested in a work / life balance, flexible working and “me time”.
Increasingly we are being approached by lawyers prepared to take enormous pay
cuts (over 50%) just to re-balance their life. They are not interested in
titles, avoid man-management, hate working long inflexible hours and don’t want
to invest their money in a business. Firms are going to need to adapt their
business model to accommodate these wants otherwise they risk losing excellent
people from their business.
There are now lots of options out there throughout the UK
for people with followings who want to be master of their own destiny on a fee
share basis along the lines of keeping 70% of what you bill and being able to
refer work to other lawyers in what has become almost a barristers’ chambers
style set up. What the market is short of is firms who offer people a well-paid
career on a more 9-5 Monday to Friday basis, accepting the fact that they have
no ambition to progress up the corporate ladder.
The answer to this issue might be the new ABS style
practices. If over time most, or all of the equity in firms is unattainable, as
it is held in floated shares or by private equity firms, then the incentive to
run harder and faster on the eternal legal career treadmill to equity
partnership will have gone. Team Leader / quasi-Director style roles will still
be pressurised roles with good financial rewards, but won’t expect (or demand)
that individuals live to work rather than work to live.
The downside of ABS’s however are many – non-lawyers
involving themselves in legal business with sometimes lower moral and
professional standards than lawyers is dangerous and can lead to friction – or
worse contact with the SRA. There is also a line of thinking that without
highly driven talented individuals pushing themselves to their professional
limits, law firms might slide into mediocrity rather than striving for
Whatever happens in the future one common thread we are
seeing from younger professionals is the desire for greater work place
flexibility and a departure from the macho long hours culture. The knock on
effect of that culture will be the need to recruit more lawyers in the future
to service the work. This might just help the army of LPC graduates get the
career in law they have been coveting.