The Mentality and Attitudes of Lawyers

What Does Loyalty Have To Do With It?

“Leadership is a two-way street, loyalty up and loyalty down.”

Grace Murray Hopper

I thought that it might be fun to test my skills as a writer, by writing about two things that have virtually nothing to do with each other.  I considered writing about mosquitos and energy drinks, flags and ostriches, or trees and jet skis.  But I wanted to find things that are irreconcilable, regardless of any possible context. After much thought, I hit upon “loyalty” and “law firms.”

It occurred to me that a good place to start would be with a quote from Hilary Bass, a former head of the American Bar Association who was commenting on the recent announcement from DLA Piper that they are reducing parental leave in the U.S. from 18 weeks to 12 weeks, with an additional 6 weeks for birth mothers.

Ms. Bass said, “it also makes sense if retention isn’t a priority. Lawyers no longer plan to stay with firms for life.”  She continued, “what is the point of making this enormous investment paying for months of paid leave… and they may not finish the year… they’ll be gone to their next law firm.” (In fairness to Ms. Bass, she also said that DLA Piper’s approach is short-sighted.)

I suppose that “loyalty” has become an anachronism. Nobody seems to owe anyone anything anymore.

I am not sure when the concept of loyalty in a law firm went on life-support, but I suspect that it was the natural evolution of how lawyers look at what they do from (1) treating the practice of law as a profession; (2) accepting that it may be a profession but it is also a business; and (3) going all-in and deciding that it is primarily a business, albeit most inconveniently, a regulated business.

From there, it was just a hop, skip, and a jump to adopting both the best and the worst of what the business world has to offer.

One of the things that the business world has done over the last few decades is double-down on the concept of labour as a commodity as opposed to a long-term partner in a corporation’s success. And so have law firms. Hire people when you are busy. Fire them when you are slow. Understandably, Associates have often repaid the lack of loyalty by jumping ship when a better offer comes along.

Now, if your Associates are not going to be with you long-term, why waste time giving them proper supervision, mentoring, and training beyond what is absolutely necessary to keep your clients happy? And why bother to teach them how to win new clients who they will just take with them to their new firm?  And why introduce them to your clients and make it easier for your Associates to poach them?

And if Partners are not helping Associates develop a great career path, why should Associates be loyal to their firms?

Why, indeed?

We have all heard the saying that “everything old is new again.”  I am anxiously waiting (likely in vain) for law firms to bring back loyalty.

This article was originally published by Law360 Canada, part of LexisNexis Canada Inc.

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