Resisting the Current
The occasion was a faculty lunch with presentations from three members of the local bar. One was a partner at one of the largest and most respected firms in the city. Another was a former student of great ability and charm who had left one of the other large elite firms to form his own small, successful firm. The third, if I recall correctly, practiced with one of the federal agencies. Our purpose was to reinforce contacts with the city's practitioners and learn more concerning their views of contemporary law practice. I remember the two private practitioners more clearly because I had familiarity with and admiration for both the large firm and the young lawyer, and because I was taken quite by surprise by one aspect of the message they brought us: each made it clear that law practice had changed, and that there was no longer time for mentoring. The need for both associates and partners to accumulate billable hours and to spend time attracting clients simply left no significant opportunity for the mentoring relationship. That this was true was not so much the surprise. What I found distressing and memorable was the matter-of- fact presentation, the absence of any indication that these lawyers felt either alarm or shame that this was their situation.
Professor Schiltz has done a great service in posting a warning about the current reality of practice in large elite law firms. The picture he reveals is not a pretty one. The law firm work environment which our most able law students enter will diminish them in significant ways. Few will successfully resist the pressures they will encounter. And there seems to be very little that legal educators or young lawyers can do about it. It is hard to fight the market, hard to resist a dominant culture. One thinks of swimming in the ocean or floating a river; for the most part you go where the water takes you, controlling your direction only within quite modest confines. Those of us who teach the legal profession course (also known as "professional responsibility" or "ethics") are well aware that although we can provide some perspectives and models, transmit some knowledge, open some questions and plant some seeds, the major determinants of professional behavior will result from role modeling and practice pressures during the neophyte lawyer's apprenticeship experience. Our influence as teachers of ethics will be small compared to that of the lawyers from whom our students learn to practice law.