The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers. Recent news in Fairfax papers that the number of Australian law graduates has doubled over the past decade should strike fear into the heart of any graduate hoping to pay off his or her HECS debt and earn a living. More than 12,000 lawyers are graduating from law every year, into a profession that currently stands at around 60,000 members. Most of the that growth has come in the area of post-graduate law, the numbers for which increased from 1635 in 2001 to 7036 in 2013.
The Australian Law Students Association said at the end of 2013 it was concerned about the decreasing number of jobs for graduates, with the pool of graduate positions shrinking largely due to post-GFC cost constraints and an increasing tendency of firms to outsource routine legal work, much of it to lower-cost countries like India.
In the US, these kinds of changes have led to a substantial drop-off in the number of law school enrollments. In an article in The Atlantic last week, authors Richard Gunderman and Mark Mutz write that law school enrolments have almost halved in the past eight years, and more than one-third of graduates are unable to find full-time work.
One of the most fundamental problems for lawyers is the downgrading of legal work from a noble profession imbued with special characteristics to that of a legal services factory in which success is judged solely on money, the authors say:
“To professionals who choose careers in fields such as law, medicine, and teaching, it is demoralizing to be treated as a unit of production. Even some of the lawyers earning millions of dollars report that they find little or no fulfillment in the work they do.”
The role of the average lawyer has fundamentally changed, they write.
“As a mere service provider, success is measured not in the professional insight and practical wisdom she offers but in the technical efficiency with which she provides services and her ability to attract other clients willing to pay her to do the same. The sense of professional fulfillment associated with the role of service provider is small at best.”
When surveyed, more than six out of 10 US lawyers said they would advise students to “seek a different career”. When I graduated from law school in the 1980s, the profession more closely resembled this description by British politician David Mellor:
“Lawyers are like rhinoceroses: thick skinned, short-sighted, and always ready to charge.”
Get out of my office. If anyone asked you where you did your most productive work, “at the office” would probably not be at the top of the list. For most of us, our best work happens in an environment over which we have more control — at home, or tucked up in a corner of the local library.
A new book from businessmen Jason Fried and David Hansson, entitled Remote: Office Not Required, produces evidence to show why this is the case. In a thesis that will seem horribly familiar to all desk jockeys, the authors say that offices, particularly open-plan ones, offer smallish chunks of work time between meetings, conference calls and other interruptions.
However, “the real creative work, the type that requires concentration, happens during non-peak times or when employees are away from the office in an interruption-free zone”. If workers do need some uninterrupted time, they usually go in early or stay back late.
“Although it seems we’re working more,” Fried and Larsson say, “we’re putting in longer hours but accomplishing less because we’re not actually getting anything done at the office.” Stepping away from the office is the best way to get meaningful work done. For some that place might be a cafe, and for others it could be a library or a home office. Noisy cafes can be easier to work in than the office because the type of noise is different. The authors point out:
“If you’re in a coffee shop and there’s white noise and people are having conversations that don’t involve you at all and have nothing to do with the work you’re doing, it’s easy to block them out.”
However, the two men who founded successful IT company 37signals, are not advocating eliminating offices altogether. “There are benefits to social interaction at work, but most work is ultimately solo work,” they say. While it makes sense to have a gathering place to brainstorm ideas every once and a while, once tasks have been delegated, “everyone should disperse to their own area to do the real work”.
In living colour. Don’t miss the last week of New Acquisitions in Context, an exhibition at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art that juxtaposes new works with pieces from the existing collection. It features works by 28 Australian and international artists ranging across painting and photography to video art and installation. Highlights include works by Howard Arkley (first below), Tracey Moffatt (second below) and Mike Parr …
One key theme in the exhibition is an exploration of landscape in its various forms, sacred and suburban. Imants Tillers’ Tabula Rasa (for my father), Mike Parr’s Inclined Perspective Wedge, and Shaun Gladwell’s Broken Hill Linework all consider concepts of landscape and its depiction within history, culture and contemporary life. The exhibition closes this Sunday.