Toward the Humane and Ethical Treatment of Lawyers

Debra L. Bruce, JD, PCC.

This new column seeks to raise the bar on the ethics and quality of life of lawyers. Many lawyers today suffer a growing malaise. As Steven Keeva, editor of the ABA Journal, says in his book Transforming Practices: Finding Joy and Satisfaction in the Legal Life, lawyers feel “trapped in lavishly furnished cells” in a “culture that values winning to the exclusion of almost everything else.” Keeva comments that collegiality and civility are “two much-mourned casualties of contemporary law practice.” A 1990 ABA Young Lawyers Division Survey of Career Satisfaction/Dissatisfaction found that ” increasing hours worked and resulting decrease in personal time have become a major problem.” and dissatisfaction in the legal profession has increased. The unhappiness of young lawyers (and consequent law firm attrition) reached such epidemic levels that the Association of the Bar of the City of New York formed a Task Force on Lawyers’ Quality of Life in 1996. The Task Force’s 2000 report reflects the results of focus groups and surveys of lawyers in 17 of the largest firms in New York City. The report summarized the price of lawyer malaise: “While at the firm, unhappy associates fail to achieve their full potential at a cost to them, their firms, their clients and their families. Invariably many lawyers leave the law firm, and even the practice of law, prematurely, resulting in undesirable and costly turnover.”
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