How to rethink and promote the well-being of corporate lawyers

A study published last month in the journal Healthcare found that attorneys in the US are twice as likely to have suicidal thoughts as other working adults. Other reports confirm that lawyers suffer from significant mental health problems and burnout. Law students report similarly sobering numbers.

There are steps individuals can take to reclaim their sanity in a hardened “law warrior” culture — including judicious use of time and technology, taking breaks, and building exercise into your day.

But some attorneys will inevitably break into the law firm’s culture — one where an attorney’s worth can be calculated in tenths of an hour or the number of clients or cases served. And it’s not just a big law issue. Individual practitioners, attorneys in small firms, and public interest organizations report similar struggles. Self-care is quickly out of the window when the systems around the individual directly disrupt or encourage unhealthy practices.

Many legitimate employers say they want to create a culture of wellbeing in the workplace, but then turn to “check-the-box” programs, like a stress management video seminar, a series of yoga sessions, or distribution of wellness items. These approaches only scratch the surface and never address conflicting messages from business leaders.

The culture of the legal practice needs to change. It won’t be easy, but there are concrete steps companies can take to improve attorney well-being.

Best practices for wellbeing

If partners, managers, and supervisors are always working, don’t use their vacation time, have no interests outside the law, and never talk about their family or hobbies, then junior-level people won’t value their own free time either. Lawyers wear overhaul for too long like it’s a badge of honor.

READ :  Sheezan Khan's lawyer claims Tunisha Sharma chatted with her Tinder friend 15 minutes before her suicide: Bollywood News

We’ve all heard it: “I worked until midnight” or “I billed for 200 hours last month,” as if lawyers were competing in the Stress Olympics. Unfortunately, winning that gold medal means there’s a greater chance of having the kinds of problems that recent studies have identified, like depression, anxiety, addiction, suicidal thoughts, or burnout.

Assign non-tech hours

Many young lawyers feel that they are expected to work or be connected to work around the clock. Technology has blurred – if not erased – the line between work and non-work.

Distraction addiction — that feeling like you can’t be away from your phone or laptop — is a recipe for excess stress that leads to burnout and failure. While partners, supervisors and managers may tell their employees not to respond immediately to a late night or weekend email, a young lawyer will always feel they should respond.

But official non-tech hours of operation, except in the case of a real emergency, make it easy to switch off. And that frees up time for things that help relieve stress without having to have a phone in hand — like dinner with friends or family, reading, or a fitness class.

Define “emergency”

If you treat every situation as an emergency, it’s impossible to distinguish problems that actually require immediate attention. In the early hours of the night, when you drop something from your plate onto someone’s plate, it becomes clear that you haven’t thought about the person receiving the email.

Schedule non-urgent emails to be sent later, or at least make it clear that you don’t expect a response outside of normal business hours.

READ :  Lawyer rushes to correct Trump after mistaking accuser's photo for ex-wife in testimony

Reconsider the billable hour in performance

Billable hours are the elephant in the room in any conversation about well-being. Organizations cannot offer wellness perks that will only add more stress to the tenth-hour worker and anticipate positive outcomes. But companies don’t have to give up billable hours entirely to change the overwork dynamic.

Start developing novel approaches to complement billable hours so there are other significant, practical, and actionable metrics of an employee’s worth. For example, gift lawyers their overall productivity for innovative approaches that win cases and attract new clients.

Companies that figure out how to reward innovation and excellence beyond the billable hour will thrive in an increasingly AI-centric landscape with fixed engagement fees. These organizations will start siphoning off the best talent—and retaining it.

That is not OK

Pretending everything is fine in legal practice – or offering simplistic, superficial solutions that only scratch the surface of the problem – can lead to unfortunate mistakes and unethical behavior.

Sticking to the status quo means your company is inflexible and unable to compete with companies that define employee value more nuancedly.

A change in an organization’s approach to well-being is not only more humane, but also brings financial benefits through less sickness and turnover, fewer mistakes and more innovation.

This article does not necessarily represent the opinion of Bloomberg Industry Group, Inc., the publisher of Bloomberg Law and Bloomberg Tax, or its owners.

Information about the author

Shailini Jandial George is a professor at Suffolk University Law School. She serves on the Standing Committee on Lawyer Well-Being of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts and on the Board of Directors of the Institute for Well-Being in Law.

READ :  The Lincoln Lawyer season 2 release updates, filming, book, and more

Write for us: guidelines for authors