I know I said I wouldn’t be controversial, but I have something I need to get off my chest. It’s about Building a Better Legal Profession. Now that they are “itching to grow” and targeting my law school, I think it’s time I speak up about how I feel about the “movement.”
First, some background. BBLP’s mission is “to ensure that practicing law does not mean giving up a commitment to family, community, and dedicated service to clients.” Sounds nice.
But something is missing. BBLP admirably wants “a renewed and meaningful commitment to real, measurable improvement in gender and racial equity and diversity” and wants “firms [to] replace billable hour systems with transactional billing.” However, nowhere on the website does BBLP call for lower pay to ensure a higher quality of life.
And herein lies my problem.
BBLP, like many law students (and attorneys), has a sense of entitlement that makes lower pay an unmentionable and unnecessary sacrifice.
Maybe it’s the my perspective. My father, a truck driver, and my mother, a cashier, work more hours than law firm associates for a fraction of the pay. They encounter sex and race discrimination that they are (practically speaking) powerless to combat. Growing up, I saw the “decreased commitment to family, community, and dedicated service to clients” both my parents had to endure, coupled with a poverty law firm associates will never endure. Most striking, my parents had neither the means, the education, nor the social capital to move out of their position. It was a matter of work or not eat. Work or not clothe your children. Work or live in a shelter.
Attorneys at large firms, on the other hand, have a very different perspective. For them, it’s a matter of work or not have a $500k home. Work or not have a BMW. Work or not have expensive lunches and cocktails. Their hours are long, but when they finish work they don’t have the added stress of trying to make ends meet. They encounter demoralizing treatment by their firms, but they have the option of finding new employment that isn’t so demoralizing. They work in homogeneous environments, all filled with the comforts of an expensive office building with antique furniture and catered events. In other words, they experience a fraction of the hardships that many working poor experience, and make more in their annual bonus than my mother makes in a year.
So my question, why aren’t we building a better truck driving profession? A better retail profession? Why aren’t BBLP law students joining the labor movement, demanding fair pay for working poor, and demonstrating that desire by working for non-profits and public interest firms that advance that mission? To be fair, I'm sure some of them do, but it doesn’t show from their website.
Most importantly, why haven’t they mentioned the elephant in the room: that they are paid far too much?