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« Balancing Zealous Advocacy With Civility | Main | Lawyers Suffering From Stress at Work Need to Set Boundaries; Life Isn't Just About "Getting Things Done" »

Did Your Law Firm Ever Warn You That You're Working Too Hard?

Sleepingworker Wouldn't it be nice if you were billing 60-70 hours a week for two months, and suddenly received a warning from your firm that you're working too hard? "Only in my dreams," you say?

Not so fast. Business Week recently shared the story of Mark Ostermann, a consultant in the Chicago office of The Boston Consulting Group, who had been putting in 60-plus-hour weeks for a month and a half straight, when he attracted the attention of the firm's "Red Zone" police -- a program apparently designed to make sure worker bees like Ostermann don't burn out.

An plan of action was quickly implemented to solve Ostermann's overwork problem. Two people were added to his team. Then his manager helped to balance the workload among the team members and prioritized elements of the project so that each team member had clear-cut goals. "It was a great feeling," Ostermann says. "I didn't have to complain to anyone. They were proactive in contacting me. . . it's a good check and balance to remind people that it's not all about working the most hours but about delivering to the client."

See the full story here.

Ostermann's experience at The Boston Consulting Group is not some isolated incident. As we discussed in a prior post, PriceWaterhouse Coopers has a work life balance program in place that reminds hard working consultants about the need to take vacation, and will even send messages to consultants caught sending an email over the weekend that they need to take a break.

With the consulting industry recognizing that demanding extreme hours is not necessarily the best way to motivate and retain top talent, it's time for law firms to follow suit.

Given that law firms track billable hours in order to invoice clients, it wouldn't be too difficult to set up systems that would warn partners about lawyers who are in danger of burning out from excessive workloads. Proactive action could then be taken to adjust the lawyer's workload in a way that ensured that clients' needs are still being met. It's just common sense in any business that you shouldn't subject your most valuable assets to "excessive wear and tear," or you're going to have to replace those assets sooner than you wanted.

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