Trying to redefine 'a good living'

What's up with lawyers, crying all over the leather interiors of their German sports sedans?

Well, not all of them.

But many attorneys today are reevaluating a life in what can be a relentlessly adversarial career.

Some may just want to kick off their wingtips and tiptoe into the fast, barefoot world of dotcoms, with their seductive stock options.

In a reaction to dotcom dominance, lawyerly dress codes have been loosened of late - even at old Wall Street firms where the partners look like they just stepped out of oil paintings.

And, more important, major law firms from West to East are rising to meet the Web's paycheck challenge. A few have thrown 40 percent raises at new associates.

For an insider's perspective, I called a friend, a young partner in the intellectual-property group at a major Boston firm. (He wears a suit, by the way, out of respect for clients at the check-writing end of his $400-an-hour fee.)

Earlier this year, his firm was the first in Boston to hike base pay for what he calls "first-year, inexperienced, 25-year-old lawyer larvae" to $140,000 a year.

My friend enjoys his work. He finds it stimulating. Astounding deals keep flowing. But he's also seen how the lifestyle that comes with a big, right-up-front salary can make it harder to walk away - even for those who lose "the love."

The culture, in fact, often encourages lawyers to flog themselves. My friend's firm budgets 1,850 "billable hours" a year for each of its members. A competitor figures on 2,300 (and 2,500 is not unheard of). That's not counting the hours not billed to clients.

And that's a lot of midnight oil.

No wonder some lawyers are finding new ways to make a living.

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(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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