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44th Street Notes


A Place at the Table


Jan 2003

Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in the second convocation presented by the State¡¦s Judicial Institute on Professionalism and the Law. The Institute, created by Chief Judge Judith Kaye and chaired by former Association President Louis Craco, is conducting an in-depth analysis of our profession and is dedicated to its improvement.

The topic of the recent convocation —the first seven years of practice —should be of particular interest to all in our profession. Chief Judge Kaye expressed her concern about the problems facing our young lawyers today —large law school debt, the emphasis on billable hours, lateral movement, the need for a balanced life, the dissatisfaction with our profession and the exit of many of our young lawyers. Chief Justice Rehnquist spoke of some of these very same issues some 16 years ago in an article appearing in the Indiana Law Journal:

What are the consequences for the associate, to the profession, and to the public at large if the associate is expected to bill two thousand or twenty-one hundred hours per year? At the time I practiced law, there was always a public aspect to the profession, and most lawyers did not regard themselves as totally discharging their obligation by simply putting in a given number of hours that could be billed to clients. Indeed, one might argue that such a firm is treating the associate very much as a manufacturer would treat a purchaser of one hundred tons of scrap metal: if you use anything less than one hundred tons that you paid for, you simply are not running an efficient business.

How do associates react to this treatment? Is the instinct of the young lawyer faced with staggering hours to favor exhaustive and exhausting research over exercising judgment necessary to decide whether ten more hours of research will really benefit a client?

In reflecting upon the words of caution of our chief judges, we should first take note of who is entering our profession. The good news is our young lawyers are all that we parents could have hoped for. They are concerned individuals — concerned about the public welfare, the environment, and human rights. They are productive, hard working, inventive and honorable. They are balanced and want balanced lives.

Indeed, our profession is much richer than ever. With women and minorities entering our profession we have more than doubled its talent base and added depth and dimension to it.

Instead of bending the will of our young to our profession, our profession should appreciate who and what they are and accommodate itself to their rational and reasonable needs.

We can start by giving them a well-deserved place at the table. Efforts to address their concerns and the health of our profession should involve them from the outset. At this Association, committee chairs are urged to appoint new lawyers to their committees. We welcome our over 700 law student members to become involved with committees. In response to young lawyers¡¦ concerns we have provided more outreach and career-oriented programs, and have tried to create an environment and the opportunities for young lawyers to meet, to network with each other and with our older members. We hope to develop more outlets and opportunities for our young lawyers to become involved and to have a voice. And we especially welcome their input in addressing the thorny and troublesome problems some of our committees are currently pondering, such as the Enron debacle and its impact upon our profession, and our response to terrorism and the rule of law.

At the convocation, Fritz Schwarz concluded his eloquent address by quoting Oliver Wendell Holmes to ¡§illustrate the overarching point¡¨ he was making: “ As life is action and passion, it is required of a man that he should share the passion and action of his time at peril of being judged not to have lived. ”

Our young lawyers clearly have the passion (and indeed the intellect, character and skills) and it is up to us to share with them the action of our time. Soon, it will be their time, and how proud we will be of them.

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