For those lawyers who have practiced through both the heady hiring frenzy of the late 1990s and the resulting (and inevitable?) chill on hiring in the early 2000s, lifestyle firms seem to have gone the way of the Dodo bird. Although it is almost certainly true that law firm culture has changed-first in favor of associate life, then to its detriment-lawyers in law firms must learn to better articulate the dynamics of law firm life.
First, a brief history. Beginning in the mid 1990s, the market for associates became increasingly more competitive, and as more and more associations moved in-house, firms found they had to work harder to attract the caliber of associate that their partners and clients demanded. This battle for the law school and lateral talent occurred in several theaters: salary, partnership track, and lifestyle. In essence, a firm's calling itself a lifestyle firm was a shorthand message that the firm in question had fewer hours and less screaming. A kinder, gentler firm was born.
See Why There Are No Lifestyle Law Firms for more information.
For several years, it was acceptable, and sometimes encouraged, for associates to ask potential employers to discuss the lifestyle at their firms. Many firms undertook lifestyle initiatives that included casual Fridays, summers, or sometimes going business-casual year-round. One firm even gave senior associates three months of vacation in their fifth year. Many firms boasted that there was no face-time requirement and their associates would be asked only to work the occasional weekend or overnight. Most important, associates who asked about a firm's quality of life were not looked down upon. Reflecting the cultural shift towards an associate-centric law firm culture, the dialogue among associates, partners, recruiters, and career services was changed.