Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

NY Times: To Get Ahead At Work, Young Lawyers Find It Helps To Actually Be At Work

New York Times, To Get Ahead at Work, Lawyers Find It Helps to Actually Be at Work:

The generational divide on returning to the office is not neatly drawn. For some young professionals, even in a pandemic, showing up is more than half the battle. ...

Since the beginning of the year, as mass vaccinations loomed and “return to office” became an incantation so popular it earned its own abbreviation, workers under 40 have been notably resistant.

But what the stories of uprisings and generational conflict, even a trying-too-hard office mixer, don’t entirely capture is this: Amid the ranks of 20- and 30-somethings is a large and growing group of employees who, for reasons part careerist and part emotional, increasingly crave the office as well. ...

Partners and more senior associates seemed to regard personal interaction as a kind of workplace luxury good that the firm had purchased for them through its safety policies. ... There was, however, one group for whom the benefits of face time were not merely social but exceedingly concrete — the first- and second-year associates. ...

As it happens, the most valuable currency for any associate are hours spent working on client business, which are both a measure of productivity and a way for young lawyers to learn their trade.

At most large firms, associates have formal quotas for billable hours, typically 1,800 to 2,000 per year. Those who want to be promoted tend to focus on accumulating these hours, which they track with time-keeping software, sometimes monomaniacally. (At Dickinson Wright, the required minimum is 1,850 hours for the first few years.)

The catch is that few first-year associates enter a firm with work awaiting them. For this, they are largely at the mercy of the senior associates and partners who dispense it.

And how, exactly, does one land assignments from these colleagues? It turns out there is no more reliable way than, well, showing up.

“People give work to people they think of,” said Amanda Newman, a senior associate in Dickinson Wright’s Phoenix office, who serves as a liaison between associates and management. “If they’re seeing you every day, they think of you.” ...

I began to wonder if there might be a more relaxed way to train young lawyers — one that didn’t require the same accumulation of office hours, the same anxious petitioning for work and for help. By the standards of Big Law, an industry known for workaholism and burnout, Dickinson Wright seemed humane. 

(Hat Tip: Jason Jarvis)

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