Editor's Note

Schadenfreude

By Melissa Kluger

On Sunday September 7th, 2008

Tweet
Share
Print

“Straight-A students getting Bs?
Exes getting STDs!
Waking doormen from their naps!
Watching tourists reading maps!
Football players getting tackled!
CEOs getting shackled!”

– Avenue Q

In Avenue Q, the hit Broadway musical, R-rated puppets pay homage to Sesame Street characters, singing about adult issues. In one scene, a character wallows in failure, and another comes along to bask in his unhappiness. They break into song, explaining the definition of “schadenfreude.”
Melissa Kluger, Publisher & EditorAs Precedent marks its first anniversary, we’ve looked back to last fall’s launch. Maclean’s had just run its “Lawyers are rats” cover, and Toronto Life had published an article by a former lawyer who called the legal profession a “soul-destroying” business.

As the editor of a new magazine for young lawyers, at a time when the profession was taking such a beating, I was constantly asked by those in the media, and others outside our legal community, to confirm that ours was a soul-destroying profession. That women are leaving in droves. That law firms have become too big and heartless. That we alienate young lawyers. That no one sleeps. That we never take vacation. And so on.

I don’t think any of them were genuinely concerned. They were asking because they took pleasure in hearing that lawyers have miserable lives: Schadenfreude.

I refuse to feed the joy they take in our perceived misery. When asked, I remind questioners that lawyers work hard, but that they enjoy what they do and get paid well for doing it. Indeed, our feature story in this issue, “Family portraits” (p.24), is about five leading lawyers and jurists whose children saw their passion and love of the law and followed in their footsteps.

But our profession is not without its shortcomings. To my fellow lawyers — those who seek to improve, rather than dine out on our weaknesses — I will be candid. In this issue, we’ve analyzed newly reported data about Ontario’s law firms, and the results should concern us. Firms are introducing “non-equity” partnerships — positions that give the illusion of the brass ring, without giving much in terms of pay or say in the governance of the firm. And, when it comes to the highly-prized equity partnership, women have yet to break the 30 percent ceiling at any firm. But what really surprised me was that there are still firms in Ontario with over 25 lawyers that have no women equity partners at all.

Finally, our review of firms’ international reach reveals that we are a relatively small player. Of the firms we looked at, none reported having more than four offices outside Canada and most had none. If law is becoming increasingly global, we should be finding more opportunities for our young lawyers to play internationally — whether it’s by increasing the presence of Canadian firms abroad, or partnering with international firms to get global experience that our lawyers require, even for doing work back home.

To media and outsiders I will say none of this. But to my fellow lawyers, I will say that we’ve got work to do.