Filed under: Law reform
San Francisco magazine asks why large law firms are increasingly unattractive to young attorneys in the Bay Area, and reports back about “absurd hours,” a 78% 5-year attrition rate, and “brutal” business pressure.
“The elephant in the room is the billable hour,” says Beth Parker, a partner at Bingham McCutchen’s San Francisco office. “People cannot work 20 to 30 years doing 2,400 hours a year. It’s just not sustainable.” Not surprisingly, a 2006 survey by the Bar Association of San Francisco found that the higher its number of billable hours, the higher a firm’s associate attrition rate.
At least in the Bay Area, many firm attorneys aren’t going to take it anymore:
But even as the profession slowly wakes up, young lawyers in the Bay Area aren’t waiting around. Entirely on their own, they’re creating new, Gen-Y-inspired ways of being a lawyer that acknowledge that things like family and yoga and volunteering should be as much a part of the good life as working hard. And if they are going to work like dogs, in the land of Google they want to make real money (read millions, not a couple hundred thousand) doing it.
The article goes on to describe a few of the options attorneys have pursued, including plaintiff-side work, launching their own firm, and the government, among others. Yes, these are the standard options. But there are new kinds of firms, too. Have you ever heard of Axiom?
So do many of the attorneys at the maverick Axiom Legal, an entirely new kind of law firm with no partners, no billable-hour rat race, and no pricey overhead on a 25th-floor vista and mahogany-paneled library. The seven-year-old firm’s business model is simple: match up Axiom attorneys with clients on a free-agency basis. Clients and Axiom agree on a set price for a project, and then clients pick the attorney they want from Axiom’s roster, with each attorney free to turn down work that’s uninteresting or too demanding.
For founder and CEO Mark Harris, the decision to opt out of the law firm life came when he realized he was billing out in one month an amount equal to his entire salary. Seeing his new firm as a refuge for other top-achieving law firm escapees, Harris and executive vice president Mehul Patel are practically the only people who work at the tiny San Francisco office. The rest of the attorneys, who run the gamut from parents who want to spend more time with their children to people who want time to write the next great American novel, work from home or at their clients’ offices.
Axiom attorneys have spoken at Stanford Law School Career Services events before, and it’s always interesting/refreshing to compare them to the usual lineup of large firms.