Many studies have shown that a healthy work-life balance for employees leads to lower attrition costs, higher productivity and reduced absenteeism. Yet as much as its benefits are lauded, with a billing-per-hour work structure, lawyers are raking up more hours at work hoping to preserve jobs and create higher revenue for their firms. In this article, we try to explore the possibilities of improving work-life balance for legal professionals.
Obstacles of a work-life balance
Both the large and boutique law firms would protest that while work-life balance is beneficial, the obstacles to attaining this are simply too difficult to overcome. Firstly there is no common magic formula. Every individual has a different take on what constitutes good work-life balance; they value different things and they derive this balance from a myriad of factors. Secondly, with limited legal resources, it is a challenge for firms to carry out high cost initiatives in pursuit of work-life balance.
Why it is not as difficult as it seems
In definition, we believe work-life balance to be a measure of control that an individual has overworked. In such context, achieving this culture of work-life balance is tangible. In terms of initiatives, law firms can look towards creating flexible work arrangements. This could mean allowing work-from-home arrangements, sabbaticals, telecommuting or phased retirement. These are all simple initiatives that firms of any size could endorse to help work towards a work-life balance.
Direction and commitment need to come from the top management in order to adopt a work-life balance culture within the firm.
Larger firms can look at creating committees which serve to execute initiatives, create awareness and gather feedback to constantly improve the existing work-life balance initiatives. While the structure of legal billable hours in law firms has long been criticised as the main reason for the extra overtime, changing the billing system to perhaps a per-assignment/flat-fee basis could help reduce work hours.
The challenges ahead
Work-life balance is something legal firms need to constantly see as a fundamental importance in the company culture. Attrition costs aside, losing a trained member means the firm also loses all the intangible benefits in preserving the client-lawyer relationship. Having a healthy, happy and productive workforce is something to work towards as well as achieving higher revenue. Direction and commitment need to come from the top management in order to adopt a work-life balance culture within the firm.
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