The Ethics of Dictating Work Ethic

By Billy Hathorn, CC BY 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

By Murray Gottheil | October 16, 2023

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Later he kicked Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden and decreed that going forward, people would have to work very, very hard, just to survive.

From then until recently, if you chose law as your profession, you did not have to read much further into the Bible to understand what was expected of you.

However, there have been rumbles lately about work/life balance and mental health that threaten to upend the wisdom that has been passed on through the generations. It comes from associates who are, according to some law firm partners, unwilling to work hard anymore.

I hold myself up as an example of someone whose ideas on this topic have evolved. It went something like this:

1981: Called to the Bar. Had no idea what was expected of me. Had I thought about it, I probably would have imagined that being a lawyer was a normal job where you worked 9 to 5 and had evenings and weekends off.

1981 to 2014: Worked long hours, evenings and weekends and sacrificed my health and relationships. Taught younger lawyers that this is what is required to succeed in the legal profession. Laughed at the crazy young lawyers who refused to fully commit to the lifestyle that was required and thought that they just did not get it.

In the later years, I lamented with my law partners that it was becoming difficult to find young lawyers who wanted to work as hard as we did. We talked about how there was something wrong with the youngsters. In fact, I advocated for giving priority in recruiting to the children of immigrants who saw how hard their parents worked to succeed in a new country and did not expect everything to be handed to them.

2014 – 2020: I started to figure out that something was wrong and searched for answers to allow me to work in a healthy manner. I stopped laughing at the young folks and concluded that trying to work in a healthy way is actually the opposite of crazy. I also started to appreciate the fact that as the cost-of-living spirals out of control, young people can be forgiven for refusing to work themselves into illness without having even the hope of achieving the material success that their parents did.

2020: Gave up and retired. I started spending my hard-earned money on travelling the world.

There is a certain irony in the idea that we older folks, having driven up the cost of houses to the point that younger people despair of achieving the standard of living which we enjoy; and running our pyramid-scheme law firms in a manner intended to make us ever wealthier so that we can afford our huge houses, cottages, boats, and travel, like to lament that it is impossible to find young people who want to  work hard anymore.

Anyway, typical boomer that I am, I did not see my part in it until after I retired and finally had time to think about it.

Murray is a happily retired lawyer who lives in the country, drives a pick-up truck, writes, teaches and mentors. You can reach him at [email protected] or see what he is up to at


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