Law People

Law People

Better Law Practice Through Better People Management

Leadership: What Really Matters

Posted in Conflict, Decision-Making, Leadership, Management, Profitability, Teamwork, Uncategorized, Work Satisfaction

According to an article in the January 2015 McKinsey and Company Quarterly Newsletter, Decoding leadership: What Really Matters,”[o]ver 90 percent of CEOs are already planning to increase investment in leadership development because they see it as the single most important human-capital issue their organizations face. And they’re right to do so: earlier McKinsey research has consistently shown that good leadership is a critical part of organizational health, which is an important driver of shareholder returns.”

But one of the questions raised by legal departments and legal firms, as well as companies the world over, is what type of leadership training really impacts performance?  What exactly are we trying to train our leaders to do?  McKinsey and Company has an answer, which we quote:

“Our most recent research… suggests that a small subset of leadership skills closely correlates with leadership success, particularly among frontline leaders. Using our own practical experience and searching the relevant academic literature, we came up with a comprehensive list of 20 distinct leadership traits. Next, we surveyed 189,000 people in 81 diverse organizations [in location, size, industry and effectiveness] around the world to assess how frequently certain kinds of leadership behavior are applied within their organizations. Finally, we divided the sample into organizations whose leadership performance was strong (the top quartile of leadership effectiveness as measured by McKinsey’s Organizational Health Index) and those that were weak (bottom quartile)…

“What we found was that leaders in organizations with high-quality leadership teams typically displayed 4 of the 20 possible types of behavior; these 4, indeed, explained 89 percent of the variance between strong and weak organizations in terms of leadership effectiveness.”  Those four are:

“1. Solving problems effectively. The process that precedes decision making is problem solving, when information is gathered, analyzed, and considered. This is deceptively difficult to get right, yet it is a key input into decision making for major issues (such as M&A) as well as daily ones (such as how to handle a team dispute).

2. Operating with a strong results orientation. Leadership is about not only developing and communicating a vision and setting objectives but also following through to achieve results. Leaders with a strong results orientation tend to emphasize the importance of efficiency and productivity and to prioritize the highest-value work.

3. Seeking different perspectives. This trait is conspicuous in managers who monitor trends affecting organizations, grasp changes in the environment, encourage employees to contribute ideas that could improve performance, accurately differentiate between important and unimportant issues, and give the appropriate weight to stakeholder concerns. Leaders who do well on this dimension typically base their decisions on sound analysis and avoid the many biases to which decisions are prone.

4. Supporting others. Leaders who are supportive understand and sense how other people feel. By showing authenticity and a sincere interest in those around them, they build trust and inspire and help colleagues to overcome challenges. They intervene in group work to promote organizational efficiency, allaying unwarranted fears about external threats and preventing the energy of employees from dissipating into internal conflict.

We’re not saying that the centuries-old debate about what distinguishes great leaders is over or that context is unimportant. Experience shows that different business situations often require different styles of leadership. We do believe, however, that our research points to a kind of core leadership behavior that will be relevant to most companies today, notably on the front line. For organizations investing in the development of their future leaders, prioritizing these four areas is a good place to start.”

Looking at law firm and law department leadership priorities, the last two behaviors outlined by McKinsey are ones that may not be fully appreciated.  Seeking different perspectives involves a degree of listening to others and encouragement and validation of others’ opinions that not all lawyer leaders exhibit.  Often, the lawyer leader operates from a more hierarchical, authoritarian orientation: “I know what is best and my job is to get you to acknowledge and do that.” Even without questioning the truth of that proposition, different perspectives are invaluable in vetting it.

The failure in the legal workplace to support others or recognize that trait as a valuable leadership skill is even more apparent. The operative word here is understanding and sensing how others “feel,” a recognition and exploration of emotions that is often anathema  to the legal mindset of “only the facts, ma’am.”  The typically low resilience of lawyers makes us particularly in need of the kind of leadership support that inspires and helps overcome the myriad challenges omnipresent in legal practice.

Leadership training is a valid exercise that legal firms and law departments should realize substantial returns from IF the training is for the appropriate skills.  Which is not to say that business development success or financial expertise or subject matter competence is irrelevant, but let’s make sure our leadership training and succession programs are focusing on all four of these priorities that McKinsey has identified.


Stress for Better and Worse

Posted in Books, Client Service, Communication, Conflict, Culture, Emotional Intelligence, Leadership, Management, Mentoring, Productivity, Profitability, Recruitment, Retention, Teamwork, Work Satisfaction

The Center for Creative Leadership’s 2013 White Paper on “The Surprising Truth about What Drives Stress and How Leaders Build Resilience” lists stress and burnout as the top two issues leaders worldwide wrestle with. “Burnout” is a syndrome caused by excessive stress which can produce physical, emotional and mental exhaustion.  Burnout is the end game of deepening stress.

The Devastation of Constant Stress

The effects of prolonged stress on our bodies and our minds are well documented.  Rather than experiencing just a shot of cortisol, the fight or flight hormone that revs us up to deal with a problem, uncontrolled stress can put us into constant cortisol overload. Abdominal fat builds up, we become insulin resistant, our arteries stiffen and blood pressure rises, heart rate and blood flow increase, often damaging and eventually blocking vessel walls, all putting us at higher risk for coronary disease. We may speak more loudly or experience lapses in judgment or logic. Hands and feet grow cold as blood rushes to the body’s core. Research shows the heart often beats erratically, spiking again and again. White blood cell production and therefore immune functioning is impaired, making us more likely to succumb to all sorts of illness.

Just the avalanche of negative thoughts that stress can provoke can impact our health.  In Mind Over Medicine, a book about the power of placebos, Dr. Lissa Rankin found that negative thoughts have physiologically damaging impacts while positive thoughts set off the release of powerful healing hormones and neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, nitric oxide, and endorphins into our blood stream. “Our bodies’ natural repair systems can’t work properly if we’re chronically stressed or pessimistic.”

A 2004 study conducted by Dr. Elissa Epel and Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn of the University of California at San Francisco found the first piece of biological evidence establishing a direct link between high stress levels and rates of aging– those suffering from long-term stress had shorter, more deteriorated telomeres (a piece of DNA that is found at the tip of chromosomes in each cell in the body).  According to Denis Novack, Professor of Medicine and Associate Dean of Medical Education at Drexel University College of Medicine at Drexel University, “there is no such thing as a separation of mind and body — the very molecules in our bodies are responsive to our psychological environment.”

High stress unequivocally reduces our intellectual functioning. According to researcher Coutu in a 2008 study, “Stressed people don’t do math very well. They don’t process language very efficiently, and they have poorer memories, both short- and long-term.”  Math and language abilities can drop as much as 50% because of excessive stress. As Rick Hanson PhD, a California-based neuropsychologist, explains, “stress is like fine sand being drizzled into the brain. It might keep working, but if you dump enough sand in there, it’ll freeze up at some point.”

Stress also exacts an emotional price, which in turn can be physically and intellectually debilitating. Researchers are finding that emotional pain produced by stress is felt and processed in the brain just as physical pain is and in the same area, the anterior cingulate cortex.  To the same extent that physical pain is debilitating, so is the emotional pain associated with depression, substance abuse or disengagement that stress can cause.

Stress has an outsized impact on our organizations’ productivity and profitability, as well. According to an article in the HBR, a Gallup survey found disengagement and stress to be major inhibitors of productivity and retention. “The American Institute of Stress reports [in 2013] that stress is the main cause underlying 40% of workplace turnovers and 80% of work-related injuries, costing companies millions of dollars annually.”

The typically high stress in the American workplace has been exacerbated by the recession and high unemployment rates.  According to a Forbes article, another Gallup poll “indicated that ‘U.S. Workers are Least Happy with Their Work Stress and Pay’ out of 13 aspects of work conditions. Well over a third of those surveyed said they were ‘totally dissatisfied’ with the amount of on-the-job-stress…”  In a 2012 StressPulseSM survey by ComPsych Corp, which provides employee assistance programs, 63% of the employees polled said they had high levels of stress with extreme fatigue and feeling out of control. According to Dr. Richard A. Chaifetz, CEO of ComPsych,  ‘people who currently have jobs – many of whom have taken on extra work – are starting to show signs of prolonged stress. This can result in burnout and reduced performance.’”

One study found that those who are depressed are particularly hampered in their ability to recognize and therefore manage their and others’ negative feelings, including the very feelings that are fueling their depression. An interesting NIH-funded study published in 2011 in Psychosomatic Medicine also found that in people with high blood pressure, “the emotion-recognizing ability [is] reduced… even after taking into account medication use and other factors.”  Leading to “emotional dampening,” hypertension evidently “reduces the ability to recognize anger, fear, sadness, and other emotions in people’s faces.”

Whether caused by one’s own depression or high blood pressure, this emotional dampening can lead to further difficulties. According to the authors: “In complex social situations like work settings, people rely on facial expressions and verbal emotional cues to interact with others. If we have emotional dampening, we may distrust others because we cannot read emotional meaning in their face or their verbal communications. We may even take more risks because we cannot fully appraise threats in the environment.” The authors believe that emotional dampening may be implicated in clinical disorders of emotion regulation, such as bipolar disorders and depression.

A recent article in the WSJ points out that our stress can also have adverse consequences on those around us, as well.  When under stress, subjects in an experiment were less likely to “feel another’s pain.” As one of the researchers note, “It’s rare to find individuals in whom stress brings out the best—fostering calm, rational thinking, deep humanity and the notion that strangers are just friends you’ve yet to meet. More typically, stress literally and metaphorically narrows our field of vision; it tends to makes us less generous and cooperative in economic games, more xenophobic, more likely to interpret ambiguous expressions as hostile ones, and more likely to displace frustration and aggression onto those around us. As this new study on the biology of stress found, it also makes us less likely to feel someone else’s pain.” Burnout’s emotional exhaustion has also been demonstrated to produce negative attitudes and lowered empathy, and to lead to depersonalizing clients and colleagues.

It is no surprise, then, that one of the tragedies of stress is that the debilitation it causes often robs people of their ability to be securely connected socially, which in turn produces further anxiety and depression and debilitation. “People who feel more connected to others have lower rates of anxiety and depression; studies show that they also have higher self-esteem, are more empathic to others, are more trusting and cooperative and, as a consequence, others are more open to trusting and cooperating with them. Social connectedness therefore generates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional, and physical well-being. Unfortunately, the opposite is true for those who lack social connectedness.”  So, for example, “[d]ampening of positive emotions may rob one of the restorative benefits of close personal relations, vacations and hobbies.”

Sound familiar?  Lawyers have higher rates of distress–in large part arising out of poorly managed stress– than any other profession.  The debilitation that many lawyers experience because of their distress may further exasperate their professional and personal functioning, which then in turn fuels their distress.

Stress for Good 

There is, however, a good side to stress. People experiencing beneficial or “adaptive” stress feel pumped. The blood vessels dilate, increasing blood flow to help the brain, muscles and limbs meet a challenge, similar to the effects of aerobic exercise, according to research by Wendy Mendes, an associate professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, and others.

Finding the right balance between the kind of stress that produces optimal performance and that which devastates is one of the better tricks for all professionals to learn.

There are a number of steps to take to try to rein in the negative effects of stress.  Recognizing when one is highly stressed, and the triggers that produce it is a start. Being able to step back enough to decide how best to deal with a stressful situation or person is a good next step.  Focusing on positive thoughts during the stressful event and then making sure that you recharge or rest afterwards help moderate the constancy of stress. Deep abdominal breathing and training in meditation and mindfulness, which help develop an ability to regulate one’s own mental and physical states, also help moderate stress.

Creating constructive emotional states, such as a sense of having control, has been demonstrated to be important in effectively dealing with stress.  Hundreds of people participating in Harvard’s executive-education programs reported less stress and anxiety than did the general population and were also found to have cortisol levels comparable to the average levels of the general population. “Moreover, the higher their rank and the more subordinates they managed, the lower their cortisol level.” Why? “Most likely because the leaders had a heightened sense of control—a psychological factor known to have a powerful stress-buffering effect.… Such leaders face troubles without being troubled. Their behavior is not relaxed, but they are relaxed emotionally.”

Setting positive expectations of stress can also ameliorate the bad and promote the good impacts. One study coached college students to believe that feeling nervous or excited before a presentation could improve their performance, and in fact it did, and they also had increased dilation of the arteries and smaller rises in blood pressure compared to the control group. In a similar study, students who received the same coaching before taking graduate-school entrance exams posted higher scores on a mock test in the lab and also on the actual exam three months later. They also posted higher levels of salivary amylase, a protein marker for adrenaline that is linked to episodes of beneficial stress.

As one legal consultant has pointed out, stress is no doubt with us always but we can still watch and learn–and manage our attitudes about stress, sometimes even to hilarious effect.

Many workplace wellness programs have begun coaching people on how to hit an optimal performance zone with enough stress to stimulate success but not take a physical or psychological toll. Has your firm taken that important step?

Muir to Speak at ABA Webinar on Emotional Intelligence

Posted in Announcements, Books, Business Development, Client Service, Coaching, Communication, Decision-Making, Emotional Intelligence, Leadership, Management, Mentoring, Productivity, Professional Development, Profitability, Recruitment, Retention, Risk Management, Teamwork, Work Satisfaction

On Friday, February 13th, at 1 to 2 ET, Muir and psychologist Rob Durr will be presenting a program on EQ: What it is and Why it Matters in an American Bar Association Career Advice webinar.  They will be discussing how high emotional intelligence can transform a good lawyer into a great one. Learn:

  • What emotional intelligence is and how you can improve yours
  • Why EQ adds practical value for judgment, problem solving, and decision making
  • How EQ enhances collaborative workplace dynamics, profitability, and client service

The program is free for ABA members.

Join us by registering here.

Making Teams Smarter

Posted in Assessments, Client Service, Decision-Making, Diversity, Emotional Intelligence, Leadership, Management, Productivity, Teamwork, Uncategorized

On January 18th, The New York Times  published  an article entitled “Why Some Teams are Smarter than Others” that has some lessons for all of us who have the occasion to work in groups.  That means, essentially, all of us. These days almost every decision of consequence is made by a group. And what we’ve all learned is that groups of smart people can make horrible decisions — or great ones. So what is it that makes the difference?

A Carnegie Mellon Tepper School of Business professor, an M.I.T. Sloan School of Management professor who is also the director of the M.I.T. Center for Collective Intelligence, and a professor of psychology at Union College conducted a study published in Science in 2010 that confirmed that some groups are just smarter than others, regardless of the task before them. What makes them smarter?  A number of theories were tested. But it was NOT IQ scores or extroversion or being more motivated that mattered.  However, smarter teams did have three characteristics in common:

  1.  Teams whose members contributed more equally to discussions, rather than being dominated by a few, or “more heads are better than one.”
  2.  Teams whose members were able to read complex emotional states, a determination made based on assessments involving viewing facial images with only the eyes visible, which it turns out truly are the  windows of the (emotional) soul.
  3.  Teams who had more women members.  That’s it.  Not just some or an equal number of women members–the more women, the better. The researchers speculated that that may perhaps be as a result of characteristic 2, in that women were better able to read those elusive emotional cues.

That study was replicated with two sets of teams and those results were published last month. In the new study, one set of teams worked face-to-face as in the original study, while the other group worked only online, never speaking to or seeing each other.

Surprisingly, the same criteria came up in distinguishing the smarter teams in both groups, even among the online group–the smarter teams were more communicative, more equally participative, and had better emotion-reading skills, skills that were demonstrated even without seeing or hearing their colleagues. And they also tended to have more women.

Is there a message here for law firms and law departments on how to build smarter teams? Apart from the awesome confirmation of “the more women, the better the team decisions,” note the critical skill that being able to read emotional cues brings to the team table. Collaboration is less a matter of identifying the one person (usually the loudest) who “has the right answer” and more a matter of efficiently assembling collective information in an atmosphere that allows the group to process and evaluate it without the distortion of unrecognized or unresolved emotional factors.

Give your teams the advantage of a clear collective head, and they will bring the best results home.

Tips for Starting Off the New Year Right

Posted in Business Development, Client Service, Communication, Conflict, Culture, Emotional Intelligence, Law Departments, Law Education, Leadership, Management, Mentoring, Professional Development, Teamwork

Shake off that New Year’s hangover–a whole new year lies ahead for making progress in your career! To help you start out right, former President of the College of Law Practice Management Merrilyn Astin Tarlton has put together 49-Tips-for-the-New-Lawyer, which are good advice for the not-so-new lawyer, as well.  Print them out, hang them on your wall and turn a page a day. If you pay attention, you are likely to have a very good year indeed.

Fixing the Leaky Pipeline and Other Gender Developments

Posted in Books, Diversity, Leadership, Management, Professional Development, Recruitment, Retention, Risk Management, Uncategorized, Work/Life Balance

There’s been some good news in the women-in-law category over the last few years. For years, women hovered in the range of 15%-18% of partners in most law firms. Both Debevoise and Cravath have been leaders in changing that–with women comprising a solid 50% average of both firms’ new partners over a five-year period.  The 2011 NAFE/Flex-Time Lawyers Best Law Firms for Women survey recognized the following six firms for having 25% or more female equity partners:

different study by the National Law Journal did not include some of the firms above but found additional firms whose women equity partner ranks  exceeded 24%:

  • Fragomen at 42%
  • Jackson Kelly at 28%
  • Ice Miller at 27%
  • Best Best and Krieger at 27%
  • Ford & Harrison at 26%
  • Holland & Hart at 25%

Among the highest grossing firms, Skadden was one that in the last couple of years had women comprising fully 20% of all equity partners. The firm’s hiring of Chicago lawyer Sheli Rosenberg, a powerhouse legal figure, to mentor its women didn’t hurt. Her mission, she said, was to “help women have successful careers and achieve balance in and out of the office.” On the other side of the pond, at Allen & Overy, 40% of their new partners were women a couple of years ago, giving Slaughter & May, who has been the UK leader in women partners, a run for their money.

Back in the States, part of Debevoise’s secret to greater female participation may be that it has long had a part-time partnership policy, formalized almost 30 years ago, that allows any associate, without making a case to the firm, to work part-time and not lose or delay their eligibility for partnership. And the same may be said for Allen & Overy, which has a part-time policy for lawyers, including one for equity partners that allows partners to work a four-day week, or full-time but with the addition of 52 days of vacation every year on top of the usual 30 days. In 2010 Sidley had 24% of its women on reduced hours who stayed on partnership track, and a number of equity partners worked on reduced-hours schedules. Another leader in part time flexibility is Fredrickson & Byron, where flex lawyers remain on partnership track at the same rate as peers.

But these flex-time policies don’t work everywhere, unfortunately. The 2012 Annual Yale Law Women Study, which recognizes the top 10 family friendly law firms in the Vault Top 100 Law Firms, found that only 5% of partners who were promoted in 2012 were then working part-time and only 7% had ever worked part-time.

Powerful women-only professional networks have begun to enjoy the same success that the men’s networks have. In 2007, the Women in Law Empowerment Forum (WILEF) was founded to educate and provide networking opportunities for women in law firms. In 2014, they are recognizing through a tiered certification program almost 50 firms (at this date) that meet various milestones with respect to women.  Although Devevoise and Cravath aren’t on the list yet, Skadden and many others have seen their emphasis on female hiring and promotion recognized.

Added to these professional networks are also educational programs for women lawyers who have been out of the workplace and the recent introduction of a re-entry program. “The OnRamp Fellowship, created in December 2013, aims to address the ‘leaky pipeline’ issue in law firms by replenishing the number of mid to senior level women lawyers” by matching experienced women lawyers returning to the profession with law firms for a one-year, paid position. “Four major law firms – Sidley, Cooley, Baker Botts, and Hogan Lovells – signed on as the founding sponsors of the Fellowship… [T]he four law firms hired nine Fellows who are working in six practice areas across six office locations through Summer 2015. More than 10 additional AmLaw 200 firms have signed on for the second round of the pilot program.”

Of course, these developments don’t fully reverse the age-old challenges that women lawyers face. One of the firms listed in the WILEF, Reed Smith, which meets all six criteria for gold certification status, settled a sex discrimination and harassment law suit by one of its female partners in 2011.  She had contended that not only were male partners paid more at the firm than their female counterparts, but female attorneys were given work based on their willingness to “engage in sexual relations with members of [Reed Smith’s] management,” according to reports at the time by The Intelligencer.

Then there’s the claim that continues to pop up that it is women themselves who are keeping other women down. PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi has been quoted as saying, “The glass ceiling will go away when women help other women break through that ceiling.” One researcher posits that women in the workplace  may feel their scarcity puts them into direct competition with other women for the few “women” spots, and/or that women who are not high performers degrade respect for all women, in each case producing a spiraling circle of woman-on-woman criticism. On the other hand, a third concern may be that women fear being accused of playing favorites to other women just because of their gender.

“There’s a place in hell for women who don’t support other women,” according to Sheli Rosenberg, Skadden’s mentor for women.

What some firms still seem to be losing sight of is the bottom-line importance of diversity: “Organizations with more women leaders produce better financial results,” as a Korn Ferry book “Women in Leadership” found.  Yet despite their value, as consultant Victoria Ruttenberg has pointed out, women are still held to standards beyond what men are held to.  She notes the authors’ finding that a senior female leader is expected to be strong in 22 or approximately 33% of the potential 67 leadership skills, while only three of those 67 leadership skills are rated as “important” for male executives. In other words, a senior male leader has to be strong in only approximately 4% of the potential 67 leadership skills, compared to a woman who has to show strength in 33% of those skills. “The same surveys showed that female executives are rising to this inequitable challenge and are outperforming male executives in 17 of those 67 leadership skills,” while males outperform women in only 4 skills, as Ruttenberg notes.

Given these odds, then, is it any wonder, as a 2014 McKinsey report on eBay’s diversity in leadership initiative found, that “women were significantly less likely than men to believe that their opinions were listened to and more likely to doubt that the most deserving people received promotions”?

Something for Nothing

Posted in Business Development, Client Service, Communication, Emotional Intelligence, Law Departments, Leadership, Management, Uncategorized

It’s that time of year.  One of the more interesting phenomena is that Americans give an astounding amount of money to charity every year–apparently primarily because they get that warm glow inside from doing so.  Sure, there may be some social advantages, like supporting friends, or reputation bennies, like seeing your name in print, but it really boils down to believing that even though you get nothing concrete in return, you get value from handing over your money.

Then there is the current legal situation where very few clients think they have gotten value when they hand over money to lawyers. Ok, admittedly a very different situation.  No one mistakes a law firm for an eleemosynary organization, and no one really expects a warm glow from that transaction.

But the research on charitable giving may illuminate other types of money transactions as well.  A recent article in the  New York Times Magazine entitled “Bucket Racket” discusses the ice-bucket challenge that raised more than $115 million for A.L.S. research this past summer and “the strange reasons we give to charity.”  It notes that research has shown (not surprisingly) that people actively avoid being hit up for charity but also that those solicitors who make eye contact and speak about their cause raise 60% more than non-engaging solicitors.

There is an indication of this effect in client/law firm interactions. Although “pricing” is often the name given to a client’s dissatisfaction, it is also called “value”–clients aren’t satisfied with how they feel about what they’ve gotten from the overall service.  Lack of responsiveness and personality issues are often cited as the culprits behind law firm firings.

So if someone personally and directly engaging with us makes us more willing to give “for nothing” in return, might it also make us more satisfied in situations where we got something, like adequate legal advice?

We don’t want to strain to make this point.  Let’s just say that at least a part of the value clients expect may well be as simple as a direct and honest engagement with their lawyer.

Reforming the Law School Business Model

Posted in Law Education, Recruitment, Retention, Uncategorized

The ABA House of Delegates approved final revisions to law school accreditation rules in August of this year. One of the most prominent changes to the standards is the “10 percent LSAT rule.” Law schools may now admit up to a tenth of their entering classes with students who did not take the test. Of course there’s no minimum LSAT score requirement for admissions to law schools anyway, but the acknowledgement that applicants don’t even need to take the test might appear to some to be radical. The new Interpretation 503-3 only allows applicants to forgo the LSAT if either (a) they’re undergraduates at the same institution to which they’re applying to law school, or (b) they’re seeking a dual degree at that institution.  And in both cases, there are requirements for scores on standardized tests and undergraduate performance. But the new rule is in response to growing requests for waivers of an LSAT requirement, which may also reflect the evidence that performance on LSATs does not correlate with the successful practice of law.

Other changes seem less substantive but aimed at reducing costs.  The recommendation to calculate full-time students to full-time faculty using a convoluted methodology has been eliminated.  It appeared to only demonstrate how much law schools have grown their payrolls, doubling the number of professors to students over the last four decades.  Law libraries were also liberated to allow “reliable access” to various sources, rather than their physical presence, allowing law schools to enter the 21st century of digital research.

Similarly, prior accreditation rules had mandated “an office for each full-time faculty member,” an outstanding example of the influence of law professors regardless of cost. The revised Standard 702(a)(4) merely requires “office space for full-time faculty members,” allowing for shared space rather than dedicated single offices.  The new rules also require law schools attached to parent universities to receive an annual “accounting and explanation for all charges and costs assessed against resources generated by the law school and for any use of resources generated by the law school to support nonlaw school activities and central university services.” While law schools have long been a cash cow for their parent universities, at least now where the law school funds go won’t be a university secret anymore.

But this is tinkering around the edges.  As Steven Harper recounts, the true crisis in the current law school model is not being addressed by ABA regulators or the law schools themselves. Only half of all those graduating from law school in 2012 found full-time long-term jobs requiring a J.D.  The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics employment report indicates that between December 2012 and December 2013, employment in the “all legal services” category actually declined by 1,000 people.  Yet as the profession was losing 1,000 jobs last year, law schools graduated a record number of new lawyers—46,000—with more large classes in the pipeline and the ABA has accredited the opening of additional law schools. Recently revised BLS estimates suggest an ongoing lawyer glut for years to come. On top of that, 85% of those graduating from law school–including the many not finding any legal jobs–are carrying six-figure law school debt, which is federally backed for the benefit of the law schools but nondischargeable by its students.

The market is somewhat unresponsive, and law school applications are down–the overall number of applicants to all law schools dropped dramatically from 87,500 in 2010 to 59,400 in 2013, but law schools’ acceptance rates have gone way up to compensate (see Matt Leichter’s Am Law Daily article) and law school tuition keeps increasing by leaps bearing no relation to inflation.

What’s to be done?  Educators continue to discuss whether the third year of law school is necessary. Many schools have two-year programs but they just cram the same work into a shorter time period. The really big reform—eliminating the third year altogether—isn’t happening because accreditation rules prevent it.  Harper points to the recently accredited Elon University School of Law as a prime example of the forces driving our current model.  Elon announced last month that it is offering a 7 -trimester law degree, which in its press release it calls a “groundbreaking new model” of legal education. But this ground-breaker comes at a higher price tag per term so that the law school makes out better (and the student worse) under the reduced time frame, as Harper has pointed out. True to form, Elon’s record-high first-year enrollment of 132 students in 2010 carried tuition of $30,750 a year, but enrollment in 2013 fell to 20% less students (with worse credentials) and tuition increased to almost $38,000 a year.  And the school plans to recover losses from their new shorter 7-trimester time frame by adding more students.

As Harper concludes, “Imagine the consequences if every law school that currently places fewer than one-third of its graduates in full-time long-term J.D.-required jobs were to increase enrollment by 20-30 percent…  For the profession, that would be like accelerating in reverse gear toward a brick wall.”



How Was Your Mental Health Day?

Posted in Assessments, Client Service, Coaching, Culture, Emotional Intelligence, Law Departments, Management, Mentoring, Productivity, Professional Development, Retention, Risk Management, Uncategorized, Wellness, Work Satisfaction, Work/Life Balance

World Mental Health Day was Friday, October 10th.  How did yours go?

Did your firm or department remind you not to work such long hours that you lose your critical thinking edge or alienate the personal ties that keep you grounded and productive?  Did you get a refresher on how to deal with stress and its back-breaking, mind-numbing effects? What about screening?  Did anyone offer to have a professional confidentially assess your mental load and review the strategies that can lessen it?

I didn’t think so.

Although it’s not such a far-fetched proposition.  There are legal cultures where just those things happen, even when it’s not World Mental Health Day. In the UK, for example, some law firms are evidently taking an interest in the mental health of their professionals.

Cited in an article last Friday in The Lawyer entitled “Firms look for ways to support lawyers’ mental health” is the stat that “a survey this week by insurance firm Friends Life revealed that 40% of those asked had concealed depression, anxiety or stress from their employer.” That’s forty percent of the general population that’s hiding their mental distress from their employers. When you consider all the data on the much higher incidence of mental distress among lawyers than any other profession, you’re starting to talk real numbers of hidden lawyer distress.

UK publication Lawyer 2B conducted a Stress in Law survey of UK lawyers this past summer which revealed that 55% said their firm had no policies to combat stress, while 17% said their firms did have such policies.  The survey also identified the chief causes of stress in these lawyers as the long-hours and the difficulties of achieving a work-life balance. “Too much work and too little time to do it in was the most cited cause of stress among lawyers across all levels,” with over 70% of non-partners citing this factor as a chief cause of stress, but fewer partners naming it. The next most common cause of stress is “difficult or unpleasant superiors,” with some 44% of young lawyers citing it, dropping to 30% of all non-partners, and only 10% of partners, in part, one must imagine, because there’s no “there there” above them to complain about.

How their work affects their personal life is a stressor for 34% of the youngest lawyers, climbing to 42%, then 61 % as you advance up the seniority ladder before dropping to 44% among partners. The pressure to meet billing targets and firm bureaucracy are both issues that gradually rise as causes of stress as lawyers move up the firm, culminating in 44% of partners citing meeting billing targets as a concern. While dealing with difficult or unpleasant peers is not a major cause of stress, overly demanding clients are, even at the youngest levels.

In response to these stats, The Lawyer sees evidence of firms trying harder to support lawyers’ mental health.  Clifford Chance, for example, piloted a stress-combating program for its trainees, or summer associates, and new associates which was so successful that it has been rolled out across the entire firm.

I’m betting they had a better World Mental Health Day than many of you did.