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LI lawyers’ survey, part 1: 15% corp lawyers want to stay 3 years, half want own law firm; Advocates most happy; 75% want foreign firms within 2 years

I can get some satisfaction (graphics by Sandeep Bhatnagar/Mint)
I can get some satisfaction (graphics by Sandeep Bhatnagar/Mint)
In today’s edition of Mint: Indian lawyers have it pretty good when compared with the average citizen, of whom only 8% are positive about their jobs—as a Gallup survey revealed last week. Nevertheless, the corporate law profession faces a crisis of confidence.

In a survey of 536 lawyers conducted by Legally India, only a small minority see themselves staying in their current jobs. Only 15% of the law firm lawyers said they could see themselves working in the same firms three years later, and more than half couldn’t. The statistic was similar for in-house company lawyers.

Furthermore, 44% of those working in law firms said they wanted to start their own law firms or practices, reflecting a trend that has showed no sign of slowing for the past several years in the Indian legal market, where almost every week there is a new start-up.

Despite the relative scarcity of start-up practices begun by in-house lawyers, 60% of the lawyers working in corporate departments also harbour entrepreneurial ambitions.

It is counterintuitive then that most Indian lawyers are fairly happy with where they work. About 59% of those working in law firms either agreed or strongly agreed that they enjoyed their current jobs. Among in-house lawyers, 51% were positive about their current roles.

The most joyous are the lawyers working in the courts, 71% of whom said they enjoyed their daily cut-and-thrust.

Why?

The lack of a good work-life balance, often seen as the bane of a corporate lawyer’s job, is an issue for 31% of the law firm lawyers. That figure increases significantly at large corporate law firms, where a lack of a work-life balance is the main cause of dissatisfaction.

“Stop giving the clients the right to call us at insane hours,” requests one corporate lawyer.

Indeed, it is telling that among in-house lawyers, who are generally the ones who call the law firm lawyers at “insane hours”, only 15% complain about their work-life balance, and 60% are happy about their hours.

The lack of perceived opportunities could be the crux to why lawyers feel the need to move on so often. Only 27% of the lawyers are happy about the careers and the advancement opportunities offered by their law firms; this statistic rises just slightly to 30% for lawyers at companies.

The single largest complaint among law firm lawyers is the lack of professionalism that they perceive in their workplaces. More than two-thirds of the law firm lawyers said they wished their workplaces were run more professionally; this was the most common suggestion given by respondents on what they would change about their firm. “Partisan family-oriented management,” is how one respondent described his workplace. Several called for greater transparency in their offices.

I can get some satisfaction (graphics by Sandeep Bhatnagar/Mint)
I can get some satisfaction (graphics by Sandeep Bhatnagar/Mint)
Honey money

Pay was less often directly cited as a problem by lawyers in law firms and companies, but 51% of the lawyers in law firms said they were not satisfied with their remunerations. In comparison, only 40% of the in-house lawyers, despite generally earning lower salaries than their law firm counterparts, complained about their remunerations.

Perhaps most unequivocal were the litigating advocates, particularly juniors—27% of them strongly disagreed that they were satisfied with the pay.

Nevertheless, 66% of the lawyers at the bar disagreed with the statement that “the bar is not a lucrative career option” with a firm eye on the future; 83% of the advocates said they wanted to be senior counsels one day and 80% said they had a realistic chance of becoming senior counsels—a sure ticket to a lucrative and respected practice.

But considering that historically fewer than a dozen advocates are designated as senior counsels every year on average in the Delhi and the Bombay high courts, that outlook may be optimistic.

Outsiders

The restlessness of the young and upwardly mobile Indian lawyer is perhaps most epitomised by the debate surrounding the entry of foreign lawyers and law firms.

The Bar Council of India (BCI) and senior partners at a number of established domestic law firms are opposed to the idea, but responses from the younger lawyers tell a different story.

Only 5% of the corporate lawyers who took part in the survey said they never wanted foreign lawyers to be allowed to open practice in India.

But the vast majority—75% of the respondents—voted for the entry of foreign lawyers within two years; 58% of the lawyers said they wanted a legal market liberalization to happen immediately. This sentiment was particularly powerful among law firm and in-house lawyers.

Slightly more lukewarm were the court-going lawyers, although they were nowhere near as opposed as is often supposed by the BCI. More than 60% of the advocates voted in favour of liberalization immediately or within two years but a significant proportion of the advocates—20%—said they never wanted foreign lawyers to enter the Indian market.

Many of the young Indian lawyers hope that foreign law firms will bring greater career opportunities and competition in the market. In the meantime —and in absence of the foreign firms—this may explain why almost half of the lawyers want to start a shop of their own. And the lack of foreign law firms is perhaps also a reason why many are able to live that dream.

This article first appeared in Mint. Legally India has an exclusive content partnership with Mint, which will feature the latest legal news and analysis every fortnight on Fridays in its print and web editions.

Legally India will continue to analyse the findings of the salary survey and drill down further, which will take some time due to the complexity of the data. Please bear with us, it is on top priority.

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