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More Analysis Of Why Lawyers Are Unhappy

Depressed_lawyers_31216267_thumbTo complement our recent post on Six Reasons Why So Many Lawyers Are Unhappy, we bring you Jonathan Kay's analysis of the issue in Canada's National Post. Kay contends that simple arithmetic serves to summarize lawyers' plight:

The average legal associate [at a large Toronto law firm] is expected to bill clients something in the neighbourhood of 2,000 hours per year - or about 40 hours per week. That doesn't sound so bad until you account for the fact that lawyers typically bill only about two-thirds of their working time. So gross up the figure to 60 hours per week, which works out to 9-to-7 Monday to Friday and another 10 hours on the weekend.

This simple truth can be confirmed by using our popular Work Life Balance Calculator.

Kay also notes that even when a lawyer is at home on the weekend spending time with family, they may still be tethered to the office by their Blackberry, which may - at any moment - interrupt their leisure time with an email concluding with something like "I'd like to see something on my desk by Monday morning."

Consistent with another post we recently published on lawyer stress, Kay references psychological studies showing that people are happiest when they feel they're in control of their own lives. "Lawyers are miserable," Kay concludes, "because, on any given day, it's their clients and senior partners who dictate whether they're going to be home in time to tuck in their kids."

Kay wonders why, if so many lawyers hate their lives, they don't band together to enshrine a greater work/life balance in law-firm culture? Kay offers two reasons why change is hard to come by.

First, Kay argues, because so much of a young transactional lawyer's work involves tediously plowing through paperwork that demands meticulous attention to detail, but little to nothing in the way of intellectual brilliance, the only way junior associates can distinguish themselves from the pack is through the sheer quantity of their billable hours. Implied is that if there were another more meaningful metric by which to judge a young lawyer's productivity and talent, the number of billable hours would become less significant as a yardstick (although, I'm not so sure - since firms continue to bill clients by the hour, they'll still want associates to bill as many hours as possible, thereby maximizing firm profits, albeit at the expense of wear-and-tear on their most valuable long-term asset, i.e., their young attorneys).

Second, Kay claims that law firms are typically run by committees of senior lawyers who probably clocked the most billables when they were coming up through the associate ranks. Accordingly, it's that kind of work ethic that informs many firms' policies. The solution here would be to bring in professional managers who could bring new perspectives to measuring producitivity and rewarding talent other than billable hours.

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