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July 31, 2008


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Abony Holmes

"They encounter demoralizing treatment by their firms, but they have the option of finding new employment that isn’t so demoralizing."

Just to clarify, what I mean by this is that compared to the working poor, they have the social capital, education, and skills to find other employment relatively quickly and easily. That employment may not pay the same, but it will more than likely pay a living wage (including the cost of paying back loans) which is more than a lot of people get.


"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?"

I couldn't agree more. At the same time, I would counter the assumption that BBLP members working for firms are not in favor of taking a pay cut for higher quality of life, or that they're not working for public interest organizations.

Justin Gosling

I also agree, though what is this "$500k home" business? Those still exist?!?

Andrew Canter

Hi Abony,

I work with BBLP and want to clarify two points in your blog post.


In BBLP's founding letter to law firms, we *did* ask for the fewer hours-less money tradeoff. A substantial percentage of attorneys at large firms and law students are willing to make the money/personal time exchange, and we want law firms to expand options to do so.

For confirmation, please see the WSJ Law Blog on April 3, 2007, which had this to say about BBLP:

"Here’s the kicker: The group wants less money. This is a labor movement asking for a smaller paycheck. 'We recognize that changes in work structures come with an economic cost, and we are willing to be paid less in exchange for a better working life,' the group says."

Most all large law firms have so far been unwilling to innovate along this dimension of their employment policies. Instead, they have continued to escalate salaries and working hours to levels beyond what many people prefer.


Regarding whether members or leaders of BBLP do public interest work, you write, "To be fair, I'm sure some of them do [public interest work], but it doesn’t show from their website." I disagree.

On our website, if you click on "leadership," short bios describe BBLP leaders' interests in and commitments to grassroots organizing, educational media, race and gender equity in employment, education law, and human rights, among other public interest topics. I'm not sure what else we should have provided here to show that BBLP members do public interest work.

You are correct that other BBLP members do public interest work that is not listed on the website. As one example, starting next month I will be an Equal Justice Works Fellow with the Mississippi Center for Justice, doing post-Katrina housing advocacy on the Gulf Coast. Other group members and leaders have also gone into public interest work.

As far as BBLP goes, one thing that I like about the organization is that it is a genuine collaboration between people taking traditional public interest jobs and those going to work at large law firms. Choosing to work for a firm doesn't mean that you give up your values or your aspirations for a workplace that respects work/life balance, reflects society, and gives something back to the community. I am hopeful that collaboration will help us bridge this horribly-divisive 'public interest vs. private firm' rift that exists in many law schools today.

If I can answer any questions or be helpful in some other way, please feel free to email me.



While an interesting read, it didn't take me very long to read up about BBLP and realize that much of what you are saying is not really accurate. It seems like a great article, but without any research (IE: read the article written by the person from BBLP pointing out the many problems with your post).

Maybe next time you should contact the org and try to see if they have any input.

Just an idea.

Abony Holmes

Re: Andrew:

Thanks for your response!

1. While there may be some mention of lower pay, for example in the founding letter and in the article you mention, my problem is (as I mentioned before) this is not indicated on your website, the first place one would look for information about what you are all about.

If lower pay was as important to you as I personally believe it should be, then it would be obvious from your mission statement. You say most attorneys would like the tradeoff of better work life balance for lower wages and I agree that some do, but it is disingenuous to suggest that increasing wages is the result of firms being unwilling to innovate or listen to their associates cries of less money and less work. The simple fact is that attorneys want to make a lot of money, this is why they interview and take positions with firms that pay a lot of money. If making a lot of money was not a priority, would websites like Above the Law exist, or better yet, would the majority of the top talent at the top law schools continue to go to large law firms? If the top talent at top law schools can't find alternatives, who can?

2. I agree that your leadership has been involved in public interest pursuits, but what I mean is that I can't tell that the organization is involved in public interest work, or is a part of a national or global movement toward workers' rights. In other words, where is the coalition building between your group and other workers' rights groups? I suspect that you would have a hard time building a coalition with janitors and truck drivers, and would likely find your peers among investment bankers and doctors.

My post is about how this angers me as an individual from a working poor background (and admittedly, as someone who has socialist sympathies) My understanding of the movement from the working poor perspective is that a group of lawyers complaining of long hours would be laughed out of any union organizing meeting. My perspective, and that of people from a working poor background, is that your "movement" is a movement of privilege and entitlement, and that your efforts would be better placed in encouraging students to seek out other opportunities if they are miserable at their job, and letting the market work out the rest.

I suppose my issue, simply put, is that this seems to be the least important social justice or workers' rights movement I can imagine, and it's sad to see so many talented students put so much effort into something that will benefit the most privileged members of our society (members who, I should point out, could leave their job tomorrow and not go hungry).

Abony Holmes

Re Mike:

See my above comment.



I am not going into the $160k firm life. I, like you, have decided to use my privilege and experience towards furthering justice in the public interest rather than helping the rich get richer. I will never make as half as much as my colleagues and will likely never pay off my student debt.

That said, I fully support BBLP and what they are trying to accomplish. While you and I have decided, for a number of reasons, to pursue public interest, we are the minority. 90% of our colleges and friends either are in too much debt or simply want money. I go to school with a number of students who simply cannot financially choose public interest. Additionally, US News rankings have placed all law schools in a position where they “support” public interest, but truly push students towards getting the highest paid job possible. This limits student’s access to real information about the firm life. Additionally, many students simply have never had a real job and have no idea what 2100 billable hours really means. Thus, no wonder lawyers have the second highest suicide rate (so I’ve heard) and are overwhelmingly miserable. Look, if you hate your life and are making 160k or 30k: you still hate your life. And no matter how much your paycheck is, I find this to be an enormous problem.

Should all law students be calling labor unions and coordinating public interest organizations? Maybe. Should we all be pursuing public interest? Maybe. Should we working for Teach for America, volunteering at their community center, giving all their money and worldly possessions to the poor, and moving to Bosnia or Uganda to help build shelters? Probably. Should you and I stop posting comments on the blog and go build a community playground? Probably. Should the truck drivers union (who are making money) stop complaining and go help the unemployed widows union? Well, probably, as it’s a more important social justice issue... right?

I imagine you do not intend to come across in this way, however you can’t help read your post with a “holier-than-thou” tone. BBLP seems to be an organization trying to help our fellow students be fully aware of what they are giving up for a $3000.00 a week paycheck. Of course there are more important social justice issues. No matter what you do, I guarantee I can find a more socially just option. Such is life. But at least they are trying to look at the legal profession and make a difference.

FYI, from my very brief overview of their website, they also seem to rank firms based on the average pro bono hours worked. Having students taking this into account, and possibly even have firms compete over who can be 1st with pro bono hours, should be something even the truck drivers union can support.

Abony Holmes

Mike: I think I see where you are coming from, but I want to respond to a few of your points.

I haven't decided where I will end up after law school. However, I don't believe in the big law firm vs. poor public interest dichotomy. People with law degrees have many options for employment that extend beyond that, and I see myself falling somewhere in there after graduation.

I understand that a minority of students pursue public interest, and I don't mean to disparage those who do not. I have a family to support and student loans to pay, and that means I'm probably not going to take a job paying the 30k I could have made with a Bachelor's degree.

My gripe is that students who make loads of money at law firms complain about the long hours and tedious work. I feel that a 25 year old with no relevant skills and a law degree is justly compensated for long hours and tedious work when they make 160k/ year.

You are absolutely right though, that the entire tone of my post and comments is holier than thou, and for that I apologize. It's really hard to not come across as holier than thou when discussing these kinds of issues (which is why I added the controversial disclaimer).

I'm all for BBLP's awareness campaign. Law students should be made aware of what they are giving up to get 160k straight out of law school. I try to talk about those very issues in this blog on a regular basis.

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