In this speech, Jennings reminisces about a speech that he gave at the Young Lawyers' Conference when he took office in 1989. He reminded them that one of the hallmarks of a profession is the commitment of its members to public service. The increasing attention to the problems of the profitability of the law practice was having a dampening effect on the spirit of volunteerism and a commitment to pro-bono work.
1,400 to 1,500 hours a year was considered a respectable target for a young lawyer, but today many firms consider 2,200 to 3,000 hours a reasonable goal for a single year. Assuming 48 working weeks per year, 3000 hours puts a lawyer behind the desk or in a courtroom for over 10 hours per day, six days a week. That's billable hours. Lunch and comfort breaks and non-billable time, are extra.
Jennings worries that workaholism is fast becoming the hallmark of the legal profession. Not so long ago, a lawyer was more than a human punch clock churning out billable time units. He/She was an advisor in the truest sense of the word. Lawyers are pushing families down the priority list with almost every waking hour consumed by work or worrying about work.
Forget tennis, forget golf or lying in the shade of a river bank with a fishing pole. There is no time for public service or charitable work or pro-bono.
Jenning poses the question, "Do we risk losing the best, the brightest, the most idealistic of our profession if we put profits above all else?"