Long hours and personal sacrifices are often associated with successful lawyers. However, work-life balance is possible without sacrificing client service.
The legal profession is no cakewalk. Lawyers have some of the most grueling work schedules of any major trade. Many of them sacrifice family time, and hobbies to put in a few more hours in pursuit of winning their cases. The grind is real — and for law firms and their attorneys, the trade offs can be tough.
According to The 2017 World Happiness Report, work-life balance is one of the strongest predictors of happiness for an individual. People who work too much are less happy, and less happy people are less engaged at work. Lower engagement leads to dips in performance, increased anxiety, and eventual burnout.
Firms should encourage functional schedules and help employees be their best every day. Here’s a few ways great firms encourage work-life balance:
Establish expectations from the start.
Many lawyers expect to work long hours. Some don’t mind earning less if it means they get to set their own schedules. Others prefer the middle option of good pay on a 9-to-5 schedule.
Because every lawyer’s situation is unique, firms should set the expectation of work hours in the first interview. Every new hire should understand that the client’s needs come first, but firms can cooperate with new hires to create scheduling agreements that work for both sides.
At our firm, we talk to prospective employees upfront about how they envision their time with us. We want people who can balance client needs with personal commitments. That doesn’t mean we expect new employees to bulldoze their lives to find a place for us — quite the opposite. Our firm needs people who understand how to take care of themselves so they can do a good job when we need them.
Our business is not unique in that regard. Every firm covets highly productive employees who don’t take extra hours to do normal amounts of work. Great lawyers are not great because they burn the midnight oil — they are great because they have the skills and mindset to take care of business efficiently.
Facilitating better balance.
Every law firm in 2019 must understand the importance of flexibility. Different clients need different things, and the same applies to different lawyers.
One way to help employees find the right balance is to offer all-purpose leave (APL) in addition to a generous vacation schedule. We encourage that time be used to take personal trips, volunteer for their favorite causes, or simply unplug for a few days. Since implementing our APL policy, we have discovered that our most successful lawyers are the ones most adept at the give-and-take the policy supports.
Leave time encourages employees to get the long breaks they need, but the daily grind offers its own challenges. Firms can let employees pick their own compensation plans, empowering lawyers to fulfill expectations on a personalized schedule. Examples of possible compensation structures include commission only, salary only, and base plus incentives. By offering a variety of plans, firms can meet the needs of every client without asking too much of their staff in the process.
Candidates love these flexible options, but firms should love them even more. Legal work is delicate and difficult. With flexible compensation plans and better leave policies, firms can keep good employees longer.
These policies can also turn average employees into good ones. Flexible schedules lead to happier employees, and happier employees are more engaged and more productive at work. Over time, an employee who started out as average could become a superstar with enough experience.
Fortunately for firms and lawyers, the American Bar Association recognizes the need for better schedules. The ABA’s new Pledge Campaign works to improve the mental health and well-being of lawyers around the country. As more firms adopt this modern philosophy, more people will enjoy the benefits of better work-life balance in law.
Lawyers may be tenacious, but they have the same physical and mental limits as everyone else. By facilitating a better work-life balance, firms can keep happier lawyers on board and improve client service at the same time.