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Define That Term #220

[BALANCE] Is BigLaw Nearing Extinction?

There have been a number of interesting articles and blog posts as of late that support my oft-repeated hypothesis that BigLaw is a thing of the past run by dinosaurs.

First, as explained in this Legal Blog Watch post, general counsel of a major corporation, Sun Microsystems, recently stated on his blog that big law firms are slow to embrace the changes in the marketplace brought about by technological advancements, and as a result, are nearing extinction.

Another factor that I've predicted will have a dramatic effect upon BigLaw is the mass exodus of Gen X and Gen Y attorneys from law firms due to a huge generational rift.  Gen X and Gen Y lawyers in general, not just women, have very different values than their Baby Boomer bosses.  As explained by Carolyn Elefant in this post from Legal Blog Watch, a recent law.com article discusses this very issue.  One solution offered in the article is:

(M)oving to a salaried system or one with a lengthy partnership track to allow lawyers to "preserve any semblance of quality of life in their 30's." She also endorses job sharing and staffing cases with more lawyers. Though these solutions may cost more, in the long run, they may help guard against attrition.

Great ideas, in my opinion, and ones that would counterbalance the huge amount of time required to run a household and a family.  Many Boomer partners have no idea how much time and energy those tasks require.  This post from Legal Living cites a CNN article which indicates that:

(S)tay-at-home moms put in about 92 hours of unpaid work per week, and working mothers aren't far behind.

It is for that reason that working mothers try to work as quickly and efficiently as possible while at their "real" jobs.

Interestingly, Carolyn Elefant suggests in this post at the Legal Blog Watch that as a result, the institutionalized "billable hour" may in fact disparately impact women lawyers who have children:

I wonder whether some enterprising lawyers might bring a class action suit against law firms, arguing that the billable hour disparately impacts women with families -- and thus, violates Title VII. The evidence is already there: More women leave firms than men when they have kids, and there's a disproportionate number of male partners. A group of lawyers could simply file a complaint at the EEOC, which has already shown that it's not shy about taking on Biglaw. At this point, the billable hour is so well entrenched and has been so thoroughly critiqued that any more calls for its elimination ring hollow -- particularly when those calls come from firms that aren't even changing their approach! By contrast, a lawsuit about the disparate impacts of the billable hour just might capture law firms' attention.

It's a fascinating idea. In my days at my former firm, employment discrimination was one of my main areas of practice, and thus this idea really interested me.  I wonder, however, if it would be difficult to establish that the disparate impact affects women more than it affects parents of either sex.

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