Even in this grim economy, law schools are full of wide eyed twenty-two year olds who dream of saving the world, making big bucks, and earning some respect from their peers. Unfortunately, if law school doesn’t leave them thoroughly disenchanted, working in a law firm likely will.
In fact, lawyers have one of the highest drug and alcohol rates of any profession nationwide – a sad and disturbing tribute to such a noble and revered profession.
But this noble and revered profession is also one of the most stressful and unforgiving ways to earn a living, so it’s no surprise that many of its practitioners are self-medicating: they’re tired, they’re overworked and they’re just so darned unhappy.
Young lawyers quickly discover that practicing law is not like what they see on television or read in best-selling novels. Instead, they get hit in the face with big billable hour quotas and locked in a library six days a week. As you can imagine, most associates are miserable and if your associate isn’t happy, he or she absolutely cannot be successful.
Harvard positive psychology studies indicate that we’ve had the cause and effect – the chicken and the egg – of success and happiness backwards. In order to be successful, people must first be happy, and not the other way around. And that’s exactly what your associates want – they just want to be happy.
The 7 Keys to Law Firm Associate Happiness
1. Eliminate billable hour requirements – among other issues, billable hour requirements are set to unattainable levels which cause stress, poor health and poor performance. It also encourages lying as many associates feel the need to fudge their hours in order to keep their jobs.
2. Continuous learning and mentoring – share your experience and expertise with your associates so that they can prosper.
3. Feeling respected and that his or her contributions matter – this can be as simple as saying “thank you” and giving your associate acknowledgment for a job well done
4. Client contact – part of being an attorney is interacting with clients, not just pushing paper.
5. Work/life balance – we all have family and friends, hobbies and interests that lie outside of the workplace. Work/life balance is essential to happiness.
6. Reasonable pay for reasonable hours – associates soon learn that huge paychecks aren’t worth unreasonable hours
7. Assigned lawyer level – not secretarial – work – this is really part of being respected Your associate went to law school for a reason – give them some lawyerly work in return.
Implement these 7 keys to law firm associate happiness (and buy pizza for lunch on Fridays), your associates will be happy and your investment in their happiness will be returned tenfold.