Work-Life Balance

'Better-Faster-Cheaper’ Work Model for Lawyers Has Led to Burnout, NY Bar Report Says

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Lawyers facing increasing pressure to “value engineer” their services have adopted a “better-faster-cheaper ethic,” leading to burnout and increased economic burdens for law firms.

That’s one of the conclusions of a report (PDF) on the future of the legal profession prepared by a special committee of the New York State Bar Association, the New York Law Journal reports.

Consumers have become more suspicious of institutions, the report says, and clients are less willing to take their lawyer’s advice at face value and more willing to sue when they are unhappy. Technology is also changing client demands.

“Electronic communication has fueled a culture in which clients want more legal information, answers on the spot, and lawyers who can interpret, rather than simply provide, information,” the report says.The result is more specialization and an emphasis on ability to deliver higher quality services at a lower cost and in less time.

Law firms are facing increasing competition, not just from other firms but also from nonlegal and offshore providers, the report points out. “A law firm in Manhattan can send legal work to Bangalore as easily as it can to an associate on its 32nd floor,” it says. Meanwhile, the push for value and technology such as document assembly software could increase pressures for the “industrialization” of legal services.

Change may create opportunities for lawyers “to assist in systematizing legal process,” perhaps by working with software developers, and to structure virtual teams of firms providing competitive services, the report says. There will also be opportunities for lawyers working with legal publishers create packaged research, forms and other solutions to be used by other lawyers.

The report says changing models of law firm structure and compensation may raise novel ethical issues, and calls for a review of innovative practices and related ethical rules. It also calls for a committee to address issues of nontraditional legal practices that are being formed as a result of client demands for more efficiency and integration of legal work with business processes.

Work-life balance should be treated as a gender neutral issue, the report advises, and the bar should create model policies for flexible working arrangements.

“Work settings which do not address stressors of the modern practice of law will continue to produce a significant number of lawyers who are depressed, dissatisfied with the quality of their lives, spend too little time with their families and communities, continue to be isolated and show increased levels of depression and addictive behaviors,” the report says.

State bar president Stephen Younger of Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler told the New York Law Journal that he agrees with suggestions in the report to limit hours worked by lawyers.

“We are under increasing pressure to get back to our clients, including 9 o’clock at night and 9 o’clock on a Saturday. We need to figure out where our boundary is as lawyers and as human beings,” he said. Limiting work “is part of being healthy people and having a perspective on the world and it makes us better lawyers in the end.”

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