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Attorney Well-Being

The secret to keeping attorneys happy: It’s more than monetary compensation

· 5 minute read

· 5 minute read

The Thomson Reuters 2022 Report on the State of the Legal Market uncovered some startling trends. Despite attorneys’ salaries rising in 2021, attorney turnover rose to record levels. Law firms lost nearly one-quarter of their legal associates due to higher demand for legal talent.

Higher pay didn’t reduce the number of attorneys leaving the firms. Firms with the highest compensation growth didn’t have the lowest turnover. Instead, firms with the lowest compensation growth had lower rates of attorney turnover.

This insight seems counterintuitive; however, attorneys’ loyalty to their firms and the impetus to work hard are not driven solely by money. If the monetary compensation is not responsible for lawyer job satisfaction – what makes lawyers happy?

Are lawyers happy with the current state of legal practice?

The Thomson Reuters report highlights the stressors and challenges that attorneys face. Higher pay correlates with high levels of stress and with lower productivity.

Surprisingly, law firms with low compensation growth and low turnover levels had heavier workloads. They billed on average 51 more annual hours than law firms with high turnover.

High turnover hurts productivity due to the added time needed for constantly onboarding new staff. Conversely, low turnover firms benefit from having less of this time wasted.

Many firms are still uncertain about returning to the office with the entire staff. As a result, hybrid work is the desired model moving forward, with part of the work done remotely and some performed in the office.

What benefits do happy lawyers value?

Non-monetary compensation in the form of attorney benefits is helpful when recruiting because it shows that a law firm cares about its legal associates. Attorneys stay with a firm because of their contentment with its culture. Getting paid more doesn’t compensate most attorneys enough to work in a miserable position with unrelenting stress overload.

The added value of non-monetary rewards is that they make people feel good about their workplace. In addition, happy staff members tell others about the firm, making recruiting new associates easier.

Lawyer well-being and mental health benefits

The American Bar Association 2018 National Task report on Lawyer Wellbeing reported that 26% to 38% of lawyers are alcoholics. Additionally, 28% of lawyers suffer from depression, and 19% said they struggle with anxiety.

In 2021, the New York State Bar Association Task Force on Attorney Wellness reported 37% of experienced lawyers have mental health-related problems, and 70% of the judiciary and solo practitioners said they did not seek professional help for mental health issues.

Younger associates have more interest in finding a satisfying work/life balance and maintaining vital mental health. Having flexible work environments and hours allows time-off for family needs or simply a chance to recharge their batteries.

Consider encouraging attorneys to schedule self-care appointments into their workday and use this time as a serious commitment to their mental health. Setting precedence for self-care at your firm will demonstrate your commitment to attorney well-being.

The importance of culture in creating happy lawyers

A happy lawyer has benefits with non-monetary incentives chosen with a holistic work/life balance goal. The successful low-turnover firms offer various programs designed to make the happiest lawyers.

For example, mentorship opportunities can be invaluable for newer associates just starting their careers. In addition, pro bono is an excellent way for new attorneys to give back while gaining on-the-job knowledge. And flexible hours offer more time for family needs and self-care.

Recruiting is easier, and turnover is low when attorneys understand the commitment made by their law firm to support them in achieving an enviable work/life balance.

Happy lawyers have the tools and technology they need

Having the right legal research technology at your firm can help with remote work. For example, Practical Law can help attorneys get up to speed quickly on new practice areas and feel confident when they finish the job. Some tools substantially cut down on the time it takes to research a case.

Having more time for the life side of the work/life balance equation comes from working more efficiently. There is more time for life enhancements, such as mental health days, gym workouts, and stress management through yoga, meditation, or Pilates, for example, without the firm experiencing a negative impact on the total billable hours.

Not sure where to begin? Start with a free trial of Westlaw Edge to improve the efficiency of legal research, create work products more quickly, and free up staff time for personal use.

Successful law firms know that recruiting good talent and keeping the talent they have requires more than money.

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