This article is that of the writer’s own opinion and does not reflect that of the CanLaw Report.
Let’s face it. When you’re a lawyer, the typical response you would get from friends and relatives would be, “Wow so you are a lawyer!”
With all the awe and respect a person can put into words. But why did you attend law school in the first place? Was it for the prestige or was it your parents’ choice [ahem…forcing you], or both?
Well for me, the decision to study law in the United Kingdom was, fortunately, my own. I was inspired by the way Nelson Mandela had fought apartheid and advocated for democratic and free society.
Have you ever wondered why are scores of associates leaving the prestige and big money to pursue our career in a new firm? Sadly, when the scenario happens it often had us labeled as “emotionally fragile millennials”.
The truth is, I’ve recently decided to relieve myself from [to remain anonymous] one of Malaysia’s most prestigious law firm. A firm which others would kill to get in.
Do not get me wrong, a career as a lawyer is an extraordinary calling. However, it remains subjective whether this profession lives up to its professional status and glamorous image perpetuated by the media.
This is my story.
Do I love my job?
I love my job, wholeheartedly!
And you know what, most often than not, it isn’t the job but the superior which is the root of the problem, or some call it the “toxic environment”.
If you have watched The Devil Wears Prada (film), you would know what I mean and if you do work for someone like Miranda Priestly, a heart-to-heart talk with your boss would go like this:
Andy – “I am trying my best…”
“Maybe your best isn’t enough!” – Miranda Priestly
That said, there is an open secret that law firms often practice but no even ever talks about. Verbal Abuse
YES, verbal abuse in law firms is worse than perceived. As it transpired, most senior practitioners would call it a norm or even indoctrination of discipline.
It’s like going to school to learn. But rather than being taught by your teachers, you get called stupid or an idiot just for asking questions or being inquisitive.
Well, the same concept applies here.
For young lawyers like myself, we pledged ourselves to work as hard as a bee and at the same time, receive constructive criticisms gracefully because most of us understand modesty. However, modesty should not be treated as subservience that we subject ourselves to verbal abuse.
On my very first day at work – I was already cringing in fear over rumors of aggression and maltreatment.
I remembered one morning, I heard yelling from a room across our department. A senior lawyer was screaming “You stupid [bleep]!” Not long after a female junior lawyer walked out of the room, looking as if her whole career had come to an end. As I handed her a packet of tissues, I remembered telling myself that wasn’t right.
This was just one of many incidents. And the sad thing was it reflects just how hypocritical the legal industry is.
On one hand, a law firm provides in-house training to polish their lawyers’ advocacy skills, when on the other, senior lawyers or partners are launching into a tirade of swear words against a junior lawyer.
In fact, some of the reasons to guarantee a shouting was ridiculous.
Some reasons may be as simple as calling a senior partner past 8 pm or accidentally walking into their office while they are on a con-call. Did I mention there was a scenario where objects were thrown at a pupil for not reaching the standards of the partner?
It was appalling to me that a single clerical error was enough to draw accusations that we lack competency for the job and to be verbally abused by employers as if the mistake had cost them their entire career. No one deserves to be treated that way, not even the ‘Kakak’ in the office.
For heaven’s sake, we are lawyers too.
As far as Section 11(1) of the Legal Profession Act 1976 is concerned, a ‘qualified person’ should be someone of good character, so does the above behavior meet the requirement set in the provision? This hypocrisy is extremely embarrassing for our profession.
And do you know what the irony was?
Like many others during the interview, I asked whether the firm practices an ‘open-door’ policy and to my delight, the interviewer assured me with all confidence that all partners do and ensure that there is no hierarchical corporate culture within the firm.
Guess that was a major overstatement, as the next thing I knew was, profanities can be heard everywhere in the office.
Hence, over a period of time, the smell of hypocrisy started to suffocate me in the office.
I was convinced and pressured that if I do not exceed the firm’s expectations, I should be treated as less than I am. I believe many of you have conceded to the idea that being trapped is better than being unemployed, just as I once did too.
But I decided enough was enough
Finally, a little after 5.30pm on a work-day afternoon, I logged out of my computer, took my handbag and a small box that contained memories, and left.
The scene felt surreal, but I felt free.
In the end…
I’ll take an important pause here to clarify that this is in no way suggests that employees start being passive aggressive. There are far better ways to handle a hostile boss — confronting the person directly, reporting the person to the disciplinary board or even finding another job.
If you [employers] think that you have been taking progressive steps in promoting talent retention and acquisition while being infamous for a high turnover rate within the firm, think again.
My point is that it’s time to change. Millennials are not keen anymore on high-paying jobs but rather more on the culture and prospect gained from the firm.
It would be a slow process but it would be for the good.
** Name is a pseudonym to ensure the author’s privacy.