Time is the most precious resource for any law firm. If a client matter demands we work around the clock, that's what we signed up for, right? You can rest when you're dead.
While ubiquitous, this attitude has led to real issues plaguing the legal profession. Lawyers are at an incredibly high risk of depression, anxiety, burnout, and other mental health issues. Attorneys are increasingly encouraged to focus on health and wellness, but the demands of the profession limit the ability for flexible work schedules and other means of reducing stress.
The truth is, most law firms struggle to make time for attorney wellness. This is especially true for solo practitioners, for whom any time off is lost revenue. But long-term, investing in a robust wellness initiative is essential to a firm's overall productivity. And if you are a solo practitioner, making time to take care of yourself is a necessary personal and business investment.
First Things First: Have a Policy in Place
The ABA has created an eight-step action plan law firms can implement to promote wellness. The ABA has also made a sample contract available regarding lawyer impairment and compliance with the model rules of professional conduct. Having a policy allows the firm to ably handle situations in which a colleague is struggling with impairment, severe burnout, or another ailment that is affecting their practice.
It is also essential to set limits – for yourself, the attorneys at your firm, and your clients – regarding time off. For example, some law firms allow associates and partners sabbaticals every few years, giving attorneys time to recharge. Scheduling time to eat right, exercise, sleep, and socialize is not indicative of a lack of commitment.
Other practical recommendations include:
- Encourage social interaction without alcohol: Cutting back on social activities can lead to isolation. However, many firm-wide social activities are focused on alcohol. De-emphasize drinking at events and offer alternatives for those who want them.
- Focus on the service aspect of the profession: Cynicism and exhaustion are two leading causes of burnout. For lawyers, who tend to be both perfectionists and pessimists, the risk of burnout is much higher than in other professions. Lawyers who feel that they are making a real difference report feeling happier. Allow attorneys at the firm to focus on the good work they are doing, not just on the hours they have billed.
A Competitive Advantage
Promoting wellness is more than just the right thing to do. Wellness programs can lead to a competitive advantage. The legal industry today is rife with firm-hopping associates and partners. Keeping your employees happy means keeping them at the firm. Losing good people to burnout, transfers, and mental health struggles is a poor return on investment.