Studying law is currently one of the most popular majors chosen by high school graduates in Poland. Taking into account the image of a lawyer appearing in pop culture, as well as the stereotype functioning in Polish society, we can get the impression that being a lawyer is synonymous with a successful person – a person working in a modern law firm in a big city, dealing only with interesting cases, achieving professional success alone, at the same time earning a great salary and always perfectly dressed. Each of us has watched, or at least associates, the main characters of the American series Suits, or our domestic productions, such as: ,,Magda M.” and , “Agatha’s Law”. Many people who do not come from legal families or otherwise have no contact with the law, get their knowledge of the legal profession precisely from movies or TV series. Therefore, the results of research conducted by the Center for Legal Education and Social Theory at the Faculty of Law, Administration and Economics at the University of Wroclaw (hereafter referred to as “CLEST research”) are not surprising, which shows that among the main factors determining the decision to study law are the prestige of the profession, high salaries or ease of finding a job.
So why, despite the prospect of practicing such a lucrative and elite profession, are more and more young lawyers giving up on doing post-graduation applications, and even definitively abandoning a career in law?
Selling the dream
Already after gaining the first, legal experience, a law graduate finds out how different the idea of the profession is from reality. Often schematic, uninteresting cases, life under constant pressure of deadlines, the need to work after hours and continuous professional development, differs from the life of TV series characters. Adding to this low (or even no) salary, huge competition and lack of prospects for development, we are shown a picture of a modern young lawyer, as well as the problems he has to face.
The analyzed problem does not apply only to lawyers practicing in Poland. Its scale is much broader and encompasses almost the entire world, as evidenced by a survey conducted by the International Bar Association (hereinafter: IBA), which aimed to determine the priorities, interests and concerns of young lawyers related to their work and future career plans. According to the report, in the next five years:
- Half of young lawyers are willing to move to a new but comparable job,
- 1/3 to a new legal profession,-.
- 1/5 of young lawyers are thinking about leaving the profession altogether.
The survey was conducted by means of an online questionnaire, to which some 3,000 lawyers under the age of 40 responded. The largest number of respondents came from the Asia-Pacific region, followed by Europe and Latin America. Only 6% of the lawyers who participated in the survey were from North America.
Why are young lawyers leaving the profession?
According to the report in question, the following were cited as the main reasons why young lawyers consider moving to another legal profession, as well as abandoning the profession altogether:
- low salary,
- lack of development prospects,
- negative impact of stressful work on mental health,
- difficulties in maintaining the so-called work-life balance.
Nearly half of the respondents (49%) said that salary was the most important reason for leaving the profession. This was followed by factors such as lack of development prospects (38%), workload and difficulty maintaining work-life balance (36%), desire to work abroad (33%) and negative impact of work on mental health and well-being (28%).
According to the survey, lawyers working in law firms were more likely to cite work-life balance issues than their colleagues working as in-house lawyers, among whom lack of advancement opportunities and career prospects is the biggest concern.
“It’s unrealistic to expect an employee to bill more than 2,000 hours and regularly attend networking events to build their brand or reach new clients,” said one respondent.
In contrast, a toxic work environment was a problem for 43% of female respondents and 27% of male respondents.
According to the survey, women lawyers face additional obstacles in advancing their careers. They face gender discrimination, lack of support in the workplace, and inferior pay much more often than men.
“The profession is too conservative, and senior lawyers don’t understand the concept of active mentoring despite many discussions on the subject,” – said one respondent.
Other factors cited by respondents causing them to leave the profession were the desire to work abroad and exposure to constant stress and the associated mental health consequences.
It is impossible not to agree with the analyzed results of the survey. Each year there is an increase in the number of new law graduates, with almost 5,000 people starting their applications each year. The high level of competition and the associated problems of finding a job mean that many young lawyers, in order to gain professional experience, are willing to take employment under very unfavorable conditions. The vast majority of young lawyers are employed on the basis of civil law contracts, commonly referred to as “junk contracts,” at the minimum wage, with no guarantee of the right to rest, vacation, overtime pay and, importantly, no guarantee of employment.
Unfortunately, given the widespread, as it turns out false, image of the legal profession created by stereotypes and pop culture, it seems reasonable to claim that in the case of any demands or protests aimed at improving the situation of young lawyers, this group will not receive the support of society, which still perceives it as an elite profession.