'Widespread misery': Why so many lawyers hate their jobs — and are desperate to quit

Many lawyers are deeply dissatisfied with their day-to-day work, toiling in jobs in which they have little autonomy and crushing responsibility. For some, it's the disappointment of spending three years studying law to pass a grueling bar exam, only to end up drafting paperwork for a corporation they don't care about. For others, it's the incessant demands of clients who expect them to do that paperwork at all hours of the day and night. Lawyers are so miserable, in fact, that a host of coaching services have sprung up to help them escape their careers. "It's the only industry that has a sub-industry devoted to helping people leave it, so widespread is the misery," Liz Brown, a former attorney who fled her career at Big Law firms for a new career as a law professor, said. Being a lawyer, it turns out, is a lot like smoking. It looks cool, but everyone wants to quit.

Meet the Four Havard Law Grads Taking on the Entire Legal System

On a brisk morning in October 2019, a group of students from top U.S. law schools gathered outside the offices of the corporate law firm DLA Piper in Washington, D.C. They handed out leaflets decrying the firm’s mandatory arbitration policy, which had recently stopped a lawyer at the firm from taking her sexual assault claims to court, and called on law students to boycott interviews with the firm until it promised to end mandatory arbitration. The protesters are part of a new legal labor movement hoping to eradicate sexual harassment in the legal profession. They were organized by the People’s Parity Project, a group founded by four women at Harvard Law School with the aim of eliminating mandatory arbitration provisions and ending what they describe as the legal profession itself allowing harassment of and discrimination against workers.

The Pandemic Is Putting Law Students’ Futures on Hold

As students graduating from the nation’s medical schools prepare to step into the front lines fighting the novel coronavirus, their law school counterparts confront a far more uncertain future. Front of mind for many is that states are postponing bar exams because of social distancing guidelines. Molly Savage, a third-year student at Wayne State University Law School in Detroit, recently helped put together a petition asking the state of Michigan to waive [bar] exam requirements. “To me, it’s my ability to use this degree that I’ve spent three years working on,” Savage says. “I can’t get a law job if I don’t have admission to the bar.”

Battle to regain control of Pacifica’s WBAI continues in court

Local hosts have regained access to studios at Pacifica’s WBAI but remain off the air, with control of the station subject to a pending legal dispute that is dividing the network’s board of directors. Dueling factions of the board both claim that the opposing side has misinterpreted the foundation’s bylaws. Their legal tussle has gone from state court to federal court and back to state court, with a federal judge urging the two sides to reach a deal. The legal dispute hinges on who has the power to make decisions about WBAI under Pacifica’s bylaws. But the underlying disagreements run much deeper, with competing narratives of why the layoffs occurred.

Stevens’ Clerks Reflect on Justice’s Kindness, Even in Editing

Early on in her Supreme Court clerkship, Melissa Arbus Sherry mentioned to Justice John Paul Stevens that she played high school tennis. Stevens, who was an avid tennis player, suggested that they play together some time, but Sherry didn’t think much of it. Then, during lunch in the Supreme Court’s courtyard one day near the end of the term, Stevens said, “O.K., I’m gonna come pick you up tomorrow morning before court and we’re gonna go play tennis,’” recalled Sherry, now deputy managing partner of Latham & Watkins’ Washington office. “We played singles, and he beat me, very badly,” she adds, laughing. “He always had so much energy. He always had a competitive spirit about him. But it also shows to me how much of a wonderful person he was, how much he really cared about his clerkship family.”

The Long Road to Opening South Bend's Abortion Clinic

When Whole Woman’s Health of South Bend, Indiana, saw its first abortion patient on June 27, Amy Hagstrom Miller breathed a sigh of relief. “We have a green light,” she said. “We’ve booked patients. We have physicians scheduled all the way through the end of the summer.” It had been more than four years since Hagstrom Miller, the founder and CEO, first visited the college town to see if it would be a good spot for the clinic. Since then, she and local reproductive rights advocates have faced a steady stream of hurdles, ranging from skittish landlords to lawsuits, protesters, and a stonewalling state health department.

LGBTQ Lawyers On Job Hunt Still Fear Facing Firms’ Barriers

Over the past 25 years, American public acceptance of LGBTQ individuals has grown, at least in some quarters. But LGBTQ people still face plenty of barriers in the legal industry that include choosing the right firm, office and practice group. Although a law firm might host a celebration for Pride month or speak kindly about LGBTQ employees at the management level, those attitudes aren’t always reflected in hiring. “Even law firms with a culture of inclusivity can have hiring partners on staff who are homophobic or transphobic,” said Levasseur. In the hiring and recruitment process, transgender law students face the additional risk of being outed against their will if references know them by a different name than the one they currently use, Levasseur added.

Big Law Pro Bono Takes on ‘Heartbeat’ Abortion Restrictions

Within two months of Mississippi adopting one of the nation’s most-restrictive abortion laws, Paul Weiss partner Claudia Hammerman was working with reproductive rights groups to stop it in court. “I jumped at the opportunity to protect the last abortion clinic in Mississippi and support the courageous doctors who fly in from out-of-state to provide abortion care to the women of Mississippi,” the New York-based Paul Weiss partner said. The law approved in March that would prohibit abortion at six weeks, before many women even realize they’re pregnant, was blocked by a federal judge. But Hammerman says the case is far from over. Paul Weiss is one of several Big Law firms that have dedicated pro bono hours to fight a flurry of new abortion laws that opponents say will limit access to reproductive health care. While reproductive rights organizations typically lead on litigation, these lawyers play a key role in getting the work done. They provide resources, expertise, and behind-the-scenes help.

In Anti-Choice Hands, Abortion Clinic Inspections Become a Weapon

In about two dozen states, abortion clinics need facility licenses. And as part of that licensing requirement, inspectors from the department of health can visit clinics at any time, without notice. The anti-abortion movement has used these inspections, and the resulting reports, as a political tool to target abortion providers with false claims of unsafe practices. Part of an age-old tactic of fear mongering, anti-abortion activists routinely use words like “violation” and “fail” to describe minor deficiencies, making some administrative errors look like gross violations of patient safety.

Progressives Are Trying to Reclaim Religious Freedom in Court

On the morning of a scorching day in August 2017, a group of four young women drove into the dusty expanse of the Cabeza Prieta Wilderness on the southwestern edge of Arizona. When they arrived at their destination, they parked their truck, loaded their backpacks with gallon jugs of water, and trekked deeper into the desert between the boulders and low brush. Even though they wore thick boots, the group stopped periodically to peel the thorns of jumping cholla cacti out of their legs and feet. The volunteers planned to leave their water jugs, along with pop-top cans of cooked beans, out in the desert for migrants crossing the border. But less than two hours later, they were apprehended by law enforcement and were charged by federal prosecutors with entering the park without a permit, driving in a wilderness area, and abandonment of property. In their defense, the volunteers argued that their actions were motivated by their faith.

Sanford Heisler, The Firm Helping Female Lawyers Sue Big Law

When associate Nilab Rahyar Tolton left Jones Day in early 2018, she was still reeling from the effects of what she called implicit and explicit biases against women at the firm. She said male partners commented on her appearance and assigned her secretarial-type work. After two pregnancies, Tolton said leadership paid lip service to the challenges of returning from maternity leave but then criticized her for not working enough, eventually suggesting she exit the firm. “I thought I was going to try to process or find closure for myself or move on,” she said. But several months later, she read a story about former Jones Day partner Wendy Moore, who was suing the firm for gender discrimination. Moore is represented by national plaintiffs’ firm Sanford Heisler Sharp. “It became sort of a question of moral responsibility for me,” Tolton said of her decision to reach out to Sanford Heisler with her own story.

Ties that Bind

In the summer of 2016, Adam Merberg was offered a job as a data scientist at AbleTo, a behavioral health care company based in New York City. After he verbally accepted the job offer, a corporate recruiter sent him an email letting him know the company would be running a routine background check. “Also attached is a confidentiality agreement,” the recruiter wrote. “Please review, complete, sign, and return to me as soon as possible.” The agreement included a non-compete clause prohibiting Merberg from working at any of the company’s competitors for twelve months after leaving. Merberg, who had recently completed a Ph.D. in mathematics, didn’t consider how this might later affect him.

The Supreme Court’s War Against Workers

Gorsuch’s decision ignores all power imbalances between employers and employees. “Should employees and employers be allowed to agree that any disputes between them will be resolved through one-on-one arbitration?” he writes. “Or should employees always be permitted to bring their claims in class or collective actions, no matter what they agreed with their employers?” The problem with this argument is that it presumes these contracts are drafted up by two teams of lawyers representing parties of equal power, not legal documents created by corporate law departments and shoved under the noses of unwitting employees on their first day of work. Later on, Gorsuch writes of “the parties,” plural, who “proceeded to specify the rules that would govern their arbitrations,” as if every low-wage worker consults a contract lawyer before signing off on their HR paperwork.

Law Students Push Back Against Mandatory Arbitration

To participate in on-campus summer recruiting, law firms will soon need to say if incoming associates will be subject to mandatory arbitration for employment-related disputes, and if so, if those agreements also include non-disclosure provisions. The initiative is the result of grassroots campaigns mounted by students at top U.S. law schools, who believe mandatory arbitration agreements effectively force employees to sign away their rights to go to court if they ever experience illegal treatment in the workplace.

#MeToo Movement Brings Busy Times for Labor Lawyers

What began in October with reports about Harvey Weinstein’s alleged serial sexual predation has sparked a viral engagement with the #metoo social media movement, a national conversation about sexual misconduct, and a wave of high-profile workplace sexual harassment allegations in entertainment, media and politics that shows no sign of letting up. On Monday, Ninth Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski announced via his lawyers at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart that he will retire immediately following allegations of sexual misconduct from more than a dozen women. The cultural phenomenon has created work for lawyers, from creating new internal policies at corporations, to advising them on upcoming legislation that could fundamentally change how sexual harassment allegations are settled.

How Justice Kennedy Fell for a Right-Wing Meme

Cases like Masterpiece are a symptom of white conservative Christians feeling like they have become outsiders in what they believe is their country. Jack Phillips’s lawyers at the Alliance Defending Freedom have framed his and other similar cases as efforts to protect Americans who have been caught in the crosshairs of Kennedy’s Obergefell decision and LGBTQ rights advocates. They’re trying to protect themselves against what they perceive to be the new dominant cultural norm.

Big Law Firms Show Sharp Divide Between Attorney and Staff Parental Leave

Many Big Law firms promote generous paid parental leave policies in order to woo young lawyers hoping to start a family, but those benefits often don’t apply at the same levels to staff providing support work, an analysis by Big Law Business has found. The numbers show that law firm staff do better than their counterparts in similarly paid jobs, but that law firm paid leave policies still lag behind some of the biggest U.S. companies.

The Career Coaches Helping Women Leave Big Law

Elena Deutsch spent seven years as a career coach and leadership consultant hired by law firms to advise rising associates. During that time, most of the associates she coached one-on-one were women.“When I would ask them about their partnership goals, whether they wanted to make partner, many would look over their shoulders, and kind of lean in and ask if they could really talk to me about this,” Deutsch said. “And when I assured them of confidentiality, they would share that they weren’t sure.”
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