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Boston Bar Prez Decries Law’s Focus on Money

Posted Mar 11, 2008 10:32 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Too many lawyers judge their success on the basis of money, to the detriment of the profession and their own happiness.

That’s the conclusion of Boston Bar Association President Anthony Doniger, who sees contentment as a better measure of success. The focus on money is causing law firms to make decisions that harm the profession, he asserts in an article published in the latest issue of the Boston Bar Journal (PDF).

In an effort to increase profits per partner and their American Lawyer rankings, some law firms lower the retirement age, harming the ambitions of older lawyers who are ousted. Other firms promote fewer associates to partnership, discouraging younger lawyers from staying, including women and minorities needed in partnership ranks to increase diversity.

The focus on money also increases billable-hour pressures for associates, whose focus on work leaves little time for bar or pro bono activities or satisfying personal lives. And it leads to mergers that take a toll on the lives of lawyers who have to adjust to the new work conditions.

“In the end, we need to ask when enough is enough,” Doniger writes. “Should we be willing to trade some profit or growth in profit for greater satisfaction? It is not about what The American Lawyer says—we lawyers must control our own destiny. Surely it is OK to make a little less next year (or not make more) and take on some new professional or pro bono activities, or yes, even personal activities (there’s nothing wrong with hiking the Appalachian Trail). The measure of our success has to come from our values and not monetary rankings.”

The ABA Journal addressed the time-money trade-off in a February 2007 story. Nearly 84 percent of associates responding to an online survey told the magazine they would be willing to earn less money in exchange for lower billable hour requirements.

Corrected at 1:15 p.m. to note the correct spelling of Anthony Doniger's name.

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