Three ways that law firms can improve employee wellbeing

In an environment of high turnover and “quiet quits,” law firms examine how their reward systems and cultures support or detract from attorney well-being. Nita Cumello is the Global Client Director at Thomson Reuters and Director of well-being for Global Large Law. She says that many organizations, including law firms, have experienced these pandemic epiphanies when they watch their employees assess their professional and personal priorities. Cumello helps law firms understand their cultures and create data-driven strategies to improve them.

Workplace Wellbeing

The International Bar Association (IBA) reports that more than one-third of attorneys say their work negatively or significantly impacts their well-being. While the stress of social unrest and pandemics have played a role in the burnout of legal professionals, their work still plays a significant part.

These past years have tested all of us and exposed our gaps in growth and contribution. This increases attrition but also impacts performance. Cumello explains that when people are burnt out, they don’t maximize their ability to represent clients zealously. Clients prefer to work with attorneys at their peak. Attorneys who are tired can’t deliver their best work .”

Cumello believes that firms have begun to change their mindset about supporting attorneys’ well-being to improve retention and performance. She says that Thomson Reuters data shows that firms are doing a great job supporting individuals, even after the pandemic. They are offering new benefits, more holidays, and well-being apps. The industry has evolved to a new understanding of the importance of putting the responsibility on individuals .”

Improve attorney well-being in the workplace

What can law firms do to support the well-being of their staff? No easy answers are available, as the legal industry is complex. Cumello pointed out several cases of firms hiring Chief Wellness Officers to guide their efforts. Whether or not they have a dedicated C-suite leader, firms of all sizes can still take steps to create a healthy workplace that promotes attorney well-being.

Define your vision and purpose

Clarifying your vision and purpose will help lawyers understand what they are contributing. Cumello explains that any firm can claim to be in business for the clients. Be clear on why and how you are serving clients. Thomson Reuters’ purpose is to Inform the way forward. With this in mind, I am able to focus on providing excellent client service and helping clients move from the moment they are currently into a better one.

Consider structural barriers to wellbeing

Attorneys and other legal professionals often cite the billable hour as well as the pressure to move up in their careers when they leave law firms. You can improve employee satisfaction by adjusting rewards and job tracks in accordance with your vision and purpose. Cumello points out that some people might not use well-being programs if they want to maintain their billable hour requirements. Some companies offer billable hours credit for time spent on well-being programs.

Equip lawyers to work efficiently and invest in the work that they are passionate about

Technology has enabled massive efficiency in work that was once drudgery. In the past, legal discovery and research tasks could take hundreds or dozens of hours. Technology and sophisticated data tools allow this work to be completed in just a fraction of the time. Attorneys can take advantage of efficiency to do other, more valuable work. “Partners are realizing new attorneys do not have to perform their tasks manually just because the partner did it that way. Cumello says, “We can now operate differently.”

Attorneys often fill their time with other activities when they are not pressured to produce billable hours or advance. She says it is client-facing work or pro bono projects for some. Others take on innovative projects. And others spend time with their family, knowing they represented their client zealously that day.

As new law graduates enter the workforce, they are trained to protect themselves and their families. This will increase the desire to bring more balance and flexibility to law firm cultures. This white paper offers ideas for bringing a balanced approach to your law firm.

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