I want to walk across the M4!
It wasn’t me who said this.
It also wasn’t me who said: “I have often thought about stepping in front of a car as I walk down Balham High Road”...
These stories were from two separate senior lawyers of corporate law firms, who had shared them with their bosses, who then shared them with me.
These stories are horrendous.
How can any industry – not least one that is responsible for creating legislation designed to protect people – put its practitioners under such suicidal pressure?
I am not a lawyer. But I speak to a lot of lawyers, and I also speak to the HRDs of law firms.
Until last week I had automatically assumed that these lawyers contemplated such horrific actions because they were burnt out and stressed beyond endurance. And yes, that is correct, but the nuance that had passed me by and which was explained to me only last week by an equity partner of a national law firm, is that all lawyers are held hostage by the clock on their billable hours. The pressure is relentless. Only a medical appointment is reason enough to ‘stop the clock.’
A modest billable target of 1,400 billable hours a year breaks down to 6 hours a day. This might not seem that unreasonable but that doesn’t include non-billable hours which are also rapidly on the rise as administrative staff have largely been replaced by technology and lawyers are now expected to do this work too. The hours in the corporate legal world are crazy. Something has to give. Typically, it's the women as families can’t survive (the last time I checked) with no parents at home!
Last week I was invited to speak at The Law Society’s conference on the ‘Future of Work.’ At the conference a female equity partner told me she had resigned as she couldn’t stand the short termism of the majority male ‘partners boys club’ anymore. The morning after the conference, I was walking early on West Wittering beach with a friend of mine (non-lawyer) whose daughter left Uni this summer to start her first job with a law firm. I was told that she’d already made the decision ‘to milk the system’ and was plotting her escape in a few years’ time! By sheer coincidence as my mate was telling me this, we passed a lady who my mate told me was until recently a senior equity partner in one of the leading city law firms but had just quit - she apparently is done.
Within 24 hours I was being bombarded with stories of women quitting the legal industry.
These stories are just in my inner circle. There will be thousands more.
What an undeniable waste of talent.
And then the irony is that companies ask me to find them more women as they keep losing them in the mid to senior level positions. Go figure!
Never ever in the 8 years that I have been building 2to3days has any other candidate in any other industry shared with me any such stories that even get close to comparing.
What’s the solution?
Join a consultancy
@nexa Keystone Law Farringford Legal Cognitive Law Limited are examples of consultancy law firms who have set up thriving legal practices. They are hiring lawyers who are quitting the big firms so that they can take back control of their lives. The irony is that the corporate law firms are then in turn outsourcing some of their work to these consultancies.
Stop billable hours
Pinsent Masons and Slaughter and May are just two international law firms who have done away with Billable hours.
Maternity and Paternity leave
This is 101 stuff. Law firms need to support fathers to take time off when their children are born and not to have the policy but then make it known that fathers who do take it up will be damaging their careers!
Maternity returners and career returners
With maternity returners, firms should create a plan with the mother to be before they leave to have their baby. Include touch points, team updates so they feel supported, valued and want to come back. When they do come back – and this is the kicker – don’t assume that they have lost any of their ambition. Children have a happy knack of growing up and needing less of their parents’ time over time. So many times, I hear stories of men giving them less interesting work, and work that is less worthy of a promotion. So, they get sidelined, and either give up or become consultants. Career returners who have had a break for 2 or more years who want to come back are highly valued talent. They simply need support in getting back up to speed, which takes a short number of months (no longer than a standard probationary period).
Work life integration
Support your staff to integrate work into their lives – be that hybrid working, compressed weeks, part time or job shares.
The above starts with whose in charge. What you don’t want on your watch are the continuation of these horrific stories being played out. It needs to happen now and not left for your successor.