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Facing the FACTS: Deborah Epstein Henry Offers a New Model for Work/Life Balance at Law Firms

In a recent article entitled Facing the FACTS: Introducing Work/Life Choices for All Firm Lawyers Within the Billable Hour Model, consultant Deborah Epstein Henry introduces a new approach for helping lawyers achieve work/life balance

Henry begins by highlighting three factors that have led to pervasive dissatisfaction among lawyers with work/life balance:

1. Lawyers are working longer hours than ever before (up from a range of 1,200 to 1,600 hours annually in 1965 to 2,000-2,200 today). A recent Massachusetts Institute of Technology study entitled Women Lawyers and Obstacles to Leadership found that attorneys cite long hours as an important factor in leaving their firms.

2. While technology has given lawyers flexibility, it has also blurred the lines between work and home by creating expectations of 24/7 availability.

3. Generation "Y" individuals (born between 1980-2000) appear more willing than their parents to make sacrifices in terms of reduced income to achieve other goals they consider valuable such as more time for family responsibilities and personal interests.

Some -- such as celebrity author Scott Turow -- have suggested that firms abandon the "billable hour" model (albeit often for reasons other than its negative impact on work/life balance). Henry apparently finds that option too radical, and therefore unrealistic (to be sure, while it would be ideal for firms to develop alternative methods of charging for their services that eliminate the billable hour, the fact remains that law is a business and alternative methods of billing have to make economic sense given the nature of practice areas such as litigation where one's adversary has the power to determine how much time one will have to spend on a case).

Instead, Henry proposes a new methodology -- FACTS -- to provide better work/life choices for lawyers within the billable hour model.

Henry's "FACTS" methodology hinges on replacing the terms "part time" and "full time" with "Target Hours" (the "T" in "FACTS"). Briefly, each firm would publish average "Target Hours" (billable and non-billable) for different categories of attorneys based on the following variables: areas of practice; years in practice; and employment status (partner, associate, etc.). Individual attorneys would then determine an appropriate number of "Target Hours" for themselves based on the averages (for associates, in consultation with supervising attorneys).

After setting Target Hours, attorneys would then discuss where, how and when those hours would be worked according to four options: Fixed Hours, Annualized Hours, Core Hours, and Shared Hours. Each option - described more fully in Epstein's article - is intended to address varying preferences among attorneys in terms of hours worked and the nature of assignments. The details of each option would be detailed in a written policy.

It's a somewhat complex methodology, but we encourage readers to more fully review Epstein's article at the link above since, given the stubborn survival of the billable hour, it is important to find solutions for work/life balance within that framework.

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Yes, and that is why more firms, like the one where I work, encourages and offers more personal/vacation days and has excellent benefits. This place gets it!!
The legal profession needs more of this.

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