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Goldman Sets Strict Limits on Hours. Will Law Firms Follow?

Vivia Chen

November 14, 2013

Lenin,_Engels,_Marx.pngI hate to be an alarmist, but I think capitalism is under attack. The reason: Goldman Sachs is going soft, setting limits on how much people can work.

I'm not kidding you. Mighty Goldman Sachs has become a veritable nanny-bank. It's not just suggesting bankers work less, it's forcing them to do so. Here's how one analyst described the new system to New York magazine:

Unless they receive a special waiver, [junior bankers] aren't supposed to set foot inside Goldman's offices for a period of 36 hours every weekend. (The period lasts from 9 p.m. Friday until 9 a.m. Sunday).  . . .[T]he firm's IT department may check remote logins to make sure they're not working from home during the off-limits time period. . .[S]upervisors who are found to have assigned them excessive weekend work without a waiver will be disciplined.

Whoa—did you catch that: Heads will roll if people don't chill for at least 36 hours every weekend!

So why is this hard-driving institution, the proud standard bearer of the 100-hour work week, now so concerned about work/life balance? Goldman spokesman David Wells told New York magazine: "Our goal is to give junior bankers greater predictability and flexibility with their time."

Well, that's the official line. The truth, reports New York magazine, is that the bank "is freaked out about becoming uncool," and can no longer recruit the creme of the crop. Instead, the star youngsters are going to Silicon Valley, where you can "wear jeans to work, get home in time for dinner, and still make bank."

Of course, the real question is whether Goldman's policy will trickle down to other financial institutions and the poor souls who serve them (e.g., the lawyers). My prediction: nah.

I know, I know—you're about to tell me about how millennials don't want to work so hard, and how law firms will face a talent drain too. But I don't buy those arguments. For one thing, there's no Facebook or Google equivalent that young lawyers can flock to in lieu of Cravath or Wachtell. What's more, I'm not convinced that Goldman will stick with this policy, since it has no shortage of aspiring Lloyd Blankfeins (it extends offers to only 2 percent of its intern applicants).

Those who work on Wall Street are skeptical and confused about Goldman's new rules too. "Several current and former banking analysts said they weren't sure if the new weekends-off rules were meant to be taken seriously," reports New York magazine, "or if they were just a publicity stunt that would be ignored in practice." Besides, adds the magazine, some picked Goldman "because they wanted to work themselves to the bone." (Let's hear it for individual freedom!)

Forgive me for being cynical, but I doubt that I-banks, law firms, or any for-profit institution really prefer that you work less. So I tend to agree that Goldman's new rule is just a lot of hot air. Maybe folks will take off those 36 hours between Friday and Saturday, but that just means they'll kill themselves more during the rest of the week.

I mean, really, do you expect any institution to give higher rewards to those who put a priority on work/life balance?  If you believe that, you really should go back to Kansas.

Art: Wikipedia.

E-mail  Vivia Chen: [email protected]     Follow her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/lawcareerist


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The brain drain alternative to BigLaw is called In House.

Capitalism is not under attack. This is the free market at its best. Goldman is finding that they cannot be competitive in the market with thier current work culture. The best and the brightest that they are trying to recruit are prioritizing work/life issue over straight cash and they are going where they can get what they want. Goldman is simply responding to market demands.

I think it has more to do with liability. Remember that poor Bank of America intern who died in August of an epilepsy fit after working without sleep for way to long.
I quote Bloomberg Businessweek from Oct 17: "....the intern’s father is calling on the U.K. to pass laws prohibiting excessive work hours, which may have been a factor in his son’s death."

Great article. Like you, I would like to think the "Vampire Squids," as Rolling Stone famously called them, are catching on that working people like Egyptian slaves is so out these days, but I am skeptical. Here is my take in Talent Management magazine http://blog.talentmgt.com/2013/11/08/has-goldman-sachs-wimped-out/

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

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