There’s been much talk about burnout during the Great Resignation. Peeps are walking out, thinking that there’s more to life than billable hours, unceasing demands, and just a lack of empathy/compassion, however you choose to describe it. While working remotely has had its upsides for many peeps, downsides have emerged. They include the lack of in-person communication aka the “Schmooze” or “Kibitz” factor, the inability to walk down the hall and ask questions about an assignment, the inability of supervisors to understand just how much work has been given to associates with little or no guidance. But the young associates are reluctant to ask for help, worrying that they will look stupid or uneducated or lazy or whatever. Burnout is real and we need to pay attention to it.
MIT has analyzed the top 5 predictors for attrition these days and found that a toxic corporate culture is more than 10 times likely to lead to attrition. No surprise there. A toxic corporate culture needs no description. It’s like obscenity: you know it when you see it. That toxic culture may be apparent or insidious, but it’s there, regardless.
Other predictors of attrition that the MIT survey found were job insecurity and reorganization (I can speak to that), high levels of innovation, management’s failure to recognize and acknowledge employee performance, and last, but not least, a poor response to COVID-19.
Compensation issues? Way, way, down the list of reasons for turnover. Why are high levels of innovation the third-biggest reason? The report said that keeping up with innovation means longer work hours, a faster pace, and more stress. Although the work may be fascinating, it takes its toll in a number of ways, including work-life balance.
As you know, I equate the term “pedigree” with a dog food brand. So, it was refreshing to read that you don’t have to be a star, i.e., pedigreed, AKC variety lawyer, to do interesting work and get paid concomitantly. We need more of that mindset and less of the “well, if you aren’t from a top-tiered school or have experience in Biglaw, we don’t want you.”
The profession is rightly being called out for snobbery in the talent wars. What a surprise! There can be all kinds of reasons why peeps don’t attend pedigreed law schools. How about finances, for one? How about not putting yourself in hock for the rest of your life? One lawyer couple I know has more than $500K in debt from both undergraduate and law schools. That amount, even in SoCal, can be a hefty down payment on a house if not the entire purchase price, depending upon location.
How about family responsibilities as a reason for a “nonpedigreed” law school degree? And other reasons which rightfully preclude the spending of outrageous sums to get a legal education that’s just as good and makes for just as good a lawyer? Who may make a better lawyer? Someone who graduated from the bottom half of a pedigreed law school, or someone who was ranked No. 1 elsewhere? What about those who want to practice in their communities and want to attend a law school where they can start building relationships so necessary to a successful practice? And please don’t tell me that LSAT scores will have anything to do with being a smart, successful lawyer.
In an interview with the California Lawyers Association’s digital magazine, an attorney who was admitted to the California Bar in 1952 (not a typo) is still at it. J. Wilmar Jensen has some good advice for the newbies: “The worst thing that can happen to a young lawyer is to make a lot of money off the first case. That’s bad news because you’re always looking for that from then on. Those lawyers don’t like the grind. They like the glory, but not the blood, sweat, and tears that go into it. Be prepared to work. If you don’t have a work ethic, you’re not going to make it in law practice. You’ve got to grind it out.” He is spot on.
Jensen has a “people law” practice in California’s San Joaquin Valley, one of the most productive agricultural regions in the country. (Yes, there’s more to California than Tinseltown and Silicon Valley.)
For all of us, at whatever stage, how hungry are you? I don’t mean in the tummy-growling sense, but in the career sense. How hungry are you for money? Prestige? Fascinating work? Part of what we have seen during the Great Resignation is that people are not hungry for the same things anymore. Yes, money is important to be able to pay your bills, interesting work is good so that you don’t stick a pen up your nose out of boredom. What about prestige? Important to maybe some, but fewer than we think. How many clients ask you where you went to law school? Your LSAT scores?
The past two years have taught us many things. Hunger is more than merely satisfying physical appetite. During the past two years, we have hungered for connection, for health, and other physical and emotional needs that are not satisfied by Uber Eats, Grub Hub, Door Dash, and the like. (No comments, please, about quarantine weight gain.) After two years, we can start, at least a little, to satisfy those other hungers.
Jill Switzer has been an active member of the State Bar of California for over 40 years. She remembers practicing law in a kinder, gentler time. She’s had a diverse legal career, including stints as a deputy district attorney, a solo practice, and several senior in-house gigs. She now mediates full-time, which gives her the opportunity to see dinosaurs, millennials, and those in-between interact — it’s not always civil. You can reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.