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Professional Path

Big-firm lawyering is a decidedly profit-making enterprise. Therein lies both its appeal and its
crisis. A lawyer in a firm can have a good life both professionally and personally, but a large
proportion of lawyers complain of overwork and strained personal lives. Many responses to the dissatisfaction have been offered, including "quit griping." Last year the American Bar Association (ABA) responded more thoughtfully with a book, "Raise the Bar: Real World Solutions for a Troubled Profession." I wrote a chapter for it and think the book has good insights and practical advice.

This year a Jesuit priest wrote an entirely different book that nevertheless gets to the nub of many of the troubles addressed by the ABA. The author, Donald Kirby, is the former director of the Center for the Advancement of Values Education, a program at New York's LeMoyne College. His book, "Compass for Uncharted Lives," describes Kirby's efforts over many years to incorporate the teaching of values in educational institutions. Although he focuses on undergraduate colleges, his book also gives brief attention to medical, business and law schools.

This is a tall order and will require the acceptance of some hard truths about the profession. But as the authors of the ABA book know, something has to be done. Clearly, the firms have to make the day-to-day practice of law more satisfying by adopting practical solutions. We also have to consider that not everybody is cut out to be a lawyer and not every lawyer is cut out to be a billable hour machine.
The profession needs confident and self-aware recruits and, lacking them, a front-end culling system. The result will be happier lawyers and clients, leading to more profitable firms.


Bruce D. Collins

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