16 ASIAN LEGAL BUSINESS – JULY 2023 WWW.LEGALBUSINESSONLINE.COM Lawyers are known to be grinders, clocking long hours, abiding by clients’ commands, and constantly wondering how to survive. They may be “cash rich” at times, but almost without a doubt, they are “time poor.” Despite this, the legal profession continues to attract a slew of talented young graduates, many of whom are high academic achievers determined to make an impact in the real world. However, in recent years, the tried and tested recipe for scaling the law firm ladder has been increasingly shunned by the younger generation of legal professionals. In a survey conducted by ALB among lawyers with less than ten years of PQE across Asia, nearly 73 percent of respondents cited “work-life balance” as an important factor when choosing their current position. Over 64 percent of the young lawyers also described work-life balance as “extremely important.” Additionally, 57 percent deemed the opportunity to work remotely at least some of the time as “extremely important” as well. But many of them raised what they perceived as a misperception that young lawyers are lazy or do not value hard work as much as those who came before them. One respondent believed that “different priorities” was a more accurate way to portray the mindsets of younger talents. Having been battling pressure to conform since stepping foot in the cutthroat world of the legal industry, younger lawyers are increasingly yearning for meaningful guidance and a robust support system at the workplace. This has been reflected in the perceived significance of “mentorship,” which 74 percent of respondents cited as “extremely important.” A number of respondents were also dismayed by the lack of a clear career progression trajectory, which could be demoralizing even for those ready to give their all and make an impact. The survey results have presented a fundamental challenge for today’s law firm leaders in striking a feasible balance between pursuing profitability, promoting respectable work ethics, ensuring high standards, and taking into consideration the well-being of the younger cohorts—new to the game and looking to make their mark, but in their own way. Noting the shift in workplace attitudes among younger talents these days, employee engagement specialists believe employers need to abandon the old ways of working and proactively reassess, rethink, and realign with the higher-than-ever expectations of employees. WORK TO LIVE, NOT LIVE TO WORK The awakening to work-life balance started even before the COVID-19 pandemic, but the three-year global health crisis has put it and mental health awareness under the spotlight. With the workforce collectively entering a stage of reckoning, young lawyers have also become more outspoken about their life priorities. Remote working has seemed to become a vital element in attaining work-life balance for some young lawyers. For example, some associates in the U.S. market would rather brave a salary or bonus cut than heed management’s calls to return to the office. Other law firms, such as New York-based Otterbourg, have splashed out $25,000 to each associate to lure them back to faceto-face work. And when the carrot didn’t work, Big Law brought out the sticks, with Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom being one of the latest to mandate four days in the office for its lawyers. “Work-life balance and hybrid working are crucial aspects that promote the overall well-being of any professional. It has allowed me to maintain a healthy equilibrium between my professional and personal life, and it has reduced stress and burnout while enhancing my job satisfaction,” says Yash Kahandole, a senior corporate associate at India’s Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co. “Due to hybrid working, I have been able to manage my time efficiently and accommodate personal responsibilities without compromising professional commitments,” he adds. Lyndon Choo, a counsel at Singapore-based Providence Law Asia, concurs. “Work-life balance is critical to allow lawyers to achieve their nonwork-related priorities (be it to build a family or for further studies). Remote working has the potential for law firms to work with the lawyers to accommodate the lawyers’ other priorities without the lawyers having to leave the firm,” says Choo. Although few may dispute the need for a healthier approach between work and personal life, some young lawyers also acknowledge their obligations to clients due to the nature of their occupation. “Being a project finance lawyer, I have seen a time where we had to work continuously for a couple of days for a transaction to get completed on time. During that hard-pressed time, we do COVER STORY WHAT YOUNG LAWYERS WANT Already grappling with high stress, mental health issues, and a lack of meaningful mentorship at work, young lawyers today are facing new challenges unique to the time they live in. ALB talks to junior lawyers across the region who share their experiences, aspirations, and obstacles when making their mark in a legal industry reshaped by three years of pandemic and the advent of AI. BY SARAH WONG