Attorney health and wellness should be a non-negotiable, not an empty promise.
Working in the legal industry is incredibly rewarding. The subject matter is often challenging, while the work itself is dynamic and interesting. Succeeding requires creativity, grit, hard work, and, traditionally, putting in a lot of hours. Unfortunately, making long hours mandatory makes it more difficult for diverse attorneys to thrive.
At CGL, we are striving to tackle these systemic issues rife within the legal industry. Noam Cohen and I founded the firm to challenge the notion that succeeding in the practise of law requires long hours. Here’s how:
Female & Minority Attorney Attrition is a Real Problem in the Legal Industry
Law firms are increasingly hiring diverse associates, yet the industry lacks diversity at the partnership level. The statistics from the American Bar Association’s 2020 Model Diversity Survey paint a bleak picture for diverse attorneys overall. Female attorneys leave large law firms at a rate higher than male attorneys. Meanwhile, attorneys from minority racial groups leave law firms at a rate 2-3 times higher than white attorneys. It’s little wonder that 70% of law firm leaders are white men.
While the reasons behind this are multifaceted, the long hours that are expected of attorneys as they climb the career ladder certainly contribute.
How can we be so sure?
Noam and myself both left fulfilling roles at BigLaw firms. I left several months after the birth of my first son. It was difficult to navigate working 15+ hours away from him each day. I recall pumping breastmilk in a sterile space while lamenting the milestones I was missing. Ultimately, I made the decision to leave my position at a prestigious Silicon Valley firm. While I relished the time with my son, I wasn’t satisfied with a reality where my professional opportunities were limited.
My experience isn’t uncommon.
Talented, experienced attorneys who are also mothers, military spouses, or carers, as well as attorneys with disabilities or illnesses have traditionally been excluded from legal practice. This exclusion is often based solely on the fact that they aren’t available 60+ hours per week to warm a chair at an office. It is not based at all on their ability to practise law effectively.
Long Hour Requirements Hold Female & Minority Attorneys Back
Another issue with a legal model that rewards long hours is that it makes promotion pathways more difficult for attorneys whose lifestyles aren’t suited to 15-hour days in an office. Attorney promotions are often based on billable hours. This promotion metric again favors attorneys who are available to warm chairs for long hours each week. Important and immensely valuable worker characteristics like empathy, creative problem solving, and strong negotiation skills are ignored by these metrics.
Managing Burnout in the Legal Industry
The long hours attorneys work also contribute to burnout. Lawyers are generally accepted to be at higher risk of burnout, with countless resources available online and in-house which purport to stave off burnout. However, the burnout issue can only be truly solved by systemic changes within the legal industry.
Burnout is caused by excessive and prolonged stress. Again, the causes behind burnout are multifaceted and the illness isn’t solely attributed to long days or high workloads. But for attorneys who are susceptible to it, 15 hour days and little to no control over their workload place them on the fast-track to burnout.
CGL is tackling attorney burnout by reducing attorney workloads, promoting better work-life balance, and educating our attorneys. Reduced billable hour requirements are a perquisite for our attorneys, but the firm benefits, too. Attorneys who are burned out experience disinterest, loss of motivation, and feelings of helplessness. While experiencing these symptoms, they aren’t likely to perform at their best. By giving attorneys control and autonomy, CGL is effectively setting its attorneys up to remain engaged and excel at their work – positioning the firm to offer exceptional quality legal services.
A More Humane Approach to Legal Practise
In an effort to tackle burnout and attrition, CGL’s attorneys are offered unparalleled flexibility. They choose their hours and their workload and they’re strongly encouraged to enjoy their non-work hours. This model of legal practise gives talented attorneys whose lifestyle isn’t suited to BigLaw the opportunity to engage in meaningful work with real opportunities for progression, without the need to sacrifice life around work.
Myself and Noam hope our efforts will increase opportunities for all attorneys and raise awareness of the issues inherent with the traditional model of legal practise. In doing so, we hope that attorneys who crave flexibility, control, and true balance will be inspired to join the conversation.
Because attorney health and wellness should be a non-negotiable, not an empty promise.