What If?

Many of us think that the legal profession is broken, because too many lawyers are stressed out and miserable. Law firms are throwing money at the problem. Apparently unsuccessfully. A few brave souls are attempting to start solo practices or small firms which operate on different, and more humane and sustainable principles. But apart from that, the profession seems to be lurching along as it always has and continuing to chew up, and sometimes spit out, those lawyers who are determined to have a life outside of practicing law.

I have been writing about these issues a lot. But, like many in the profession, I have been long on complaints and short on solutions. So, I thought, I am retired. I have time. Why not take a stab at solving the problem. I will start by doing something that lawyers have traditionally been good at.  Asking ‘what if’ questions. So, here goes:

  1. What if law firms identified the small proportion of their lawyers who: (a) love to mentor, train and support the younger generation; (ii) are genuinely good at it; and (iii) have a talent for being supportive and nurturing.  Let’s call those lawyers the “Mentors”.
  2. And what if: (i) law firms significantly reduced (or even eliminated) the billable hours target for the Mentors; (ii) treated the Mentors as being just as critical to the success of the firm as the rainmakers and high billers; and (iii) paid the Mentors just as much as they paid the rainmakers and high billers.
  3. And what if the billable targets of the associates were reasonable.  Not 2,000 hours. Not 1,800 hours. Maybe somewhere in the range of 1,200 to 1,600 billable hours.  And to make that happen, more associates would be hired.
  4. And what if, every partner and senior associate who was not a Mentor was told that they had only two choices: (i) they could do all of their work themselves; or (ii) they could delegate work to associates through a Mentor.
  5. And what if there was a zero-tolerance policy for partners trying to: (i) end-run the system by going around the Mentors; or (ii) pressure the Mentors to overload the associates or make the associates comply with ridiculous deadlines.  
  6. And what if the Mentors were empowered to: (i) review the instructions and work with the instructing lawyer to clarify the instructions and make the time deadlines reasonable; (iii) bring in additional associates if required; (ii) review the work product and work with the associate to improve the quality of the work; (iii) assist associates to attain their career goals; and (ii) modify workloads to address personal challenges when required.
  7. And what if, as a result of this structure,  associates: (i) always felt that there was someone in their corner that they could rely on; (ii) consistently received full,  complete and knowledgeable instructions on their files; (iii) received frequent feedback on their work, delivered in a constructive manner; (iv) were never assigned false or unreasonable deadlines; (v) had someone making sure that they were being exposed to work that helped them improve, grow in the profession and make progress on their career path; and (vi) did not have to deal with ridiculous demands from entitled partners or office bullies.
  8. And what if, as a result of taking these steps: (i) turn-over and the associated costs were significantly reduced; (ii) salary costs were lowered because people were downright happy working for the firm and it was no longer necessary to throw money at associates to compensate them for making their lives miserable; (iii) the firm developed better lawyers; and (iv) the firm’s ability to consistently produce quality work improved.

Presumably one of two things would happen.  Either, firm profits would plummet, the rainmakers and high billers would leave because they could make more money elsewhere, and the firm would implode. Or, maybe, just maybe, the firm would become a great place to work. Profits would actually increase, word would spread that the firm was a place where having a life is possible, and lawyers would line up to get in.

What do you think?

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