Large Law Firm Misery: It's the Tournament, Not the Money
Will young lawyers truly be happier and more fulfilled if they can restrain their appetite for money? Professor Schiltz's wonderful sermon certainly provides a stirring argument in the affirmative. In his eyes, it is greed (or materialism) that has led to the decline of the profession and makes lawyers unhappy. Lawyers' lust for money is at the root of their unhappiness with the profession.' This is broken down into two steps: "[m]oney is at the root of virtually everything that lawyers don't like about their profession: the long hours, the commercialization," etc., etc. And their obsession with money leads lawyers to engage in well-paying but unsatisfying work which is the ultimate "source of their unhappiness."
His theme is consistent with his earlier sermon on the errant ways of legal academics. In Legal Ethics in Decline: The Elite Law Firm, the Elite Law School, and the Moral Formation of the Novice Attorney, he argued that just as big-firm lawyers have become obsessed with maximizing income, legal academics have become obsessed with maximizing academic prestige, which is acquired by scholarship. Because of these obsessions, big-firm lawyers neglect everything else and become unhappy, and academics neglect teaching and mentoring. (No claim is made that this makes academics unhappy.) Thus both lawyers and academics have become single- minded in their pursuit of an exclusive goal and as a result have lost variety and richness in their lives. Both are urged by Professor Schiltz to pursue a more balanced life, a course which would produce not only personal satisfaction, but institutional renewal. If a sufficient number of law school graduates were to insist on maintaining balance in their lives, "big firms would be very different places to- day." And if academics were to restrain their pursuit of prestige through writing, they could instead inspire such virtue in their students.
As members of both of these wayward groups, we were doubly moved by his exhortation and were persuaded momentarily to find greater balance in our lives. But then the indelible skepticism that makes us lawyers, and academic lawyers at that, slowly reasserted itself.