By Charlie McMillan
Clerkship Available! I did that just to catch your eye. But it is kind of related to what is below. Kind of.
It was a fantastic opportunity recently when law firms from Hong Kong came to Melbourne Law School to sell their internships and clerkships. I thought it a compelling chance to gaze into the exciting future beyond law school.
A certain unnamed law firm was promoting their demanding but rewarding work culture and big name clients. I appreciated their honesty in not trying to conceal from new applicants their exploitative, extract-your-pound-of-flesh hours - but the glowing prestige of working at a well-known firm was a thin veil barely obscuring a 60-hour work week.
A recent Harvard Business Review article started with the simple proposition: “If you’re so successful, why are you still working 70 hours a week?” The author argued that many elite modern professional services firms rarely adhere to the traditional principle of trudging through the desert in your early years to reach the oasis of upper management or partner, at which point you can finally relax. More often, these firms identify and recruit insecure overachievers. By virtue of their insecurities, these people are fiercely driven for fear of being exposed as inadequately knowledgeable or prepared for a job by their co-workers or, worse, their clients. And when such individuals move their way up the ladder, those below will emulate their work ethic. Firms also foster a familial bond among co-workers which normalises unhealthy working hours and pressures staff to work overtime. A panel of former law students-cum-bankers who came to MLS during week 2 praised this practice of familial tight-knit teams bonding during late nights. In light of the Harvard article, this comes across as a little sinister..
Please! Take a look at the piece yourself. I cannot summarise it adequately and I am certain there are many here at MLS with whom it will resonate uncomfortably.
Occasionally, I thank my insecurities for helping me this far down the tertiary pathway. But without taking good care, they might drag me into a corporate career which does not have a “you made it” point. My insecurities are not necessarily working for me, but working for the benefit of whoever employs me – pushing me to work harder than I should have to.
As I was listening to a partner of that unnamed law firm sell the merits of a career at his workplace, I wondered if he thought he was finally “successful” or whether there was still pressure on him to work overtime for no compensation.
I do not deny the satisfaction of hard work – I am a workaholic who can find long hours extremely gratifying. Fortunately, society appears to value this. I do, however, fear what enjoyment I might be trading in if I were to sell my soul to a white-collar cattle farm of which I am no integral part.
Maybe this is just me having a mid-semester crisis.
In any case, when you are all out there overachieving, you wonderful law scholars, make sure you are in control of why you are doing so.