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Time to Buckle Up: The ‘Mad Men’ Era Is Coming Back to Big Law

Jan. 6, 2023, 9:00 AM

I am donning my velvet cape and dusting off my crystal ball to see what the future holds for the legal profession. Here’s what the spirits are telling me about the new year:

Associates won’t be coddled like precious princelings.

Sure, it was just a year ago that firms told associates they were special snowflakes and spoiled them rotten. Associates got accustomed to deluxe sushi lunches, aromatherapy breaks, and special bonuses for having a pulse.

But with dealmaking expected to nosedive in 2023, the kids are in for a rude awakening. Not only will firms turn off the niceties, but many more will join the layoff bandwagon—discarding their young talent like yesterday’s iPhones.

There will be boots on the ground.

Now that Gen Z-ers no longer call the shots, law firm leaders will bring back the old order, insisting that all able bodies return to the office. And they won’ t do this to increase productivity or create a better work product—but because they can. Plus, the old guard never got over the idea that real men go to the office.

Brooks Brothers will come back in vogue.

Not only do real men trudge to the office, they’re again expected to do so in starched shirts, ties, and suits. For female lawyers: it’s the return of stilettos (assuming you can still fit into those Manolos), pantyhose, Spanx, and carefully coiffed hair. Aim for the Mad Men look because Big Law is going retro.

Resumes will be embellished.

If newly elected New York Rep. George Santos can “embellish” his resume with impunity, why shouldn’t you? Instead of adding Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law to your resume, why not put down Stanford Law School?

Hey, Samford sounds awfully close to Stanford, right? While you’re at it, tell folks you started your career at Cravath, Swaine & Moore. (No need to reveal you worked at the firm’s copy center.) You might get caught eventually, but if you can bring in business, no one will care.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion will go out of style.

The US Supreme Court will deliver its decision in the Harvard and University of North Carolina college admissions cases and officially end affirmative action.

The upshot: DEI initiatives will come to a grinding halt. Fearing legal challenges—or using that as a pretext—law firms and corporations will cease programs aimed at increasing minority recruitment, retaining women, or promoting under-represented groups.

More importantly, the powers-that-be can finally stop pretending they cared about DEI in the first place.

We will inch toward a theocracy.

Now that reactionaries are running the show with Samuel Alito leading the charge, the Supreme Court will eradicate all vestiges of separation of church and state.

Last year, the court sided with a high school coach in Washington who led prayer sessions after football games and ruled in favor of Christian families in Maine who sought taxpayer money for religious schools.

Expect even bolder rulings this year. It won’t be long before we’ll be reciting the Lord’s Prayer and singing hymns in the courtroom.

White dudes will be back in style.

Instead of trotting out women and people of color to show how progressive they are, law firms will revert to the classic Big Law model: Avuncular White guys who play golf.

Yes, reports that White men are on their way out have been greatly exaggerated. They might have kept a lower profile in recent years, but we knew they were always in control. And they never go out of style.

The veneer of diversity and social nicety is now a bygone of the pandemic. It’s time to get back to the office and make your firm some money. But wasn’t that always the drill?

To contact the reporter on this story: Vivia Chen in New York at vchen@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Alison Lake at alake@bloombergindustry.com