I heard about a trial recently that made me think about a (possible) generational difference in the law. The trial was in-person. The trial lawyers were in one city, and the trial was 1,000 miles away; the lawyers would have to fly to the trial site. If folks were aggressive about it, they all could have had one, and some two, shots of the vaccine before they left. So the senior trial lawyer asked his team: “Who’s willing to fly to the trial site?”
One associate — the senior-most of the bunch — said yes.
Two associates — the junior members of the team — said no. (Yeah, that’s a lot of associates. It was a big case.)
Granted, this story reeks of Biglaw, thus distinguishing it from trench law as practiced by us starving groundlings of the Guild. After all, these were the law review geeks who deplatformed wrongthinking speakers before cashing their new associates’ hundred grand wardrobe allowance checks. But then, Biglaw doesn’t get much of a chance to do trials, unlike real lawyers, and doing trials, even seventh seat, beats sitting in the library perusing documents for any mention of “fraud” or proofing M&A agreements for the correct number of zeros.
In other words, this is about as sexy as lawyering gets at Biglaw, and for a baby lawyer to get a chance to be anywhere near real lawyering used to be the thing they wanted more to do than anything else. “Used to be” is the operative phrase.
Suppose, a generation ago, a senior partner had asked, “You have to run through a burning building to get to the trial site. Are you willing?”
Before he finished the question, the smoldering associates would have appeared on the far side of the structure.
It was that big a deal. Not only would an associate sell his soul to get a chance to be near real lawyering, but also to let the senior partner know that he was ready, willing and able to do whatever it took. Carry the briefcase? Fetch the coffee? Polish his shoes? Heck, the associate would birth his baby if that’s what it took.
We were always quiet about this, because we didn’t want the firm to know, but we would have paid the firm money for the firm to allow us to watch a trial. And more money to examine a witness. At big firms, watching is as close to trial experience as many associates get. It’s where the action is. You’d do anything for a trial.
Stop laughing, you gunslingers. These little shits are pulling down $190k for parking the boss’ Porsche while you’re eeking out $34k for trying ten cases a year. It’s a tradeoff. Or at least it used to be.
Are we really seeing a change in attitudes about work-life balance?
Alright, alright: I hear the chorus of you saying in unison, “Okay, boomer.” Maybe you’re right. Maybe I’m just part of an older generation thinking that the younger generation is less committed to its careers.
But it’s also possible that’s true: The younger generation may in fact be less committed to its careers.
But then my once-wizened brother whose firm hand guided a generation of above-average children to the realization that no matter what their mommy told them, there were not yet special, utters the unthinkable.
It’s also possible that’s desirable: Why did people ever ruin their lives for the right to participate in a trial?
Is it possible? Is putting in the effort to get off the couch to be close to a trial, to be a lawyer, “ruining their lives”? Is being a lawyer just too much effort? Are the times a’changing, as Brother Herrmann asks, or is it good enough to pretend to be a fierce and important lawyer on twitter even though you couldn’t find a courthouse with Google maps?
*Tuesday Talk rules apply.