Study Shows You May Need to Cut Hours to Keep Your Doors Open

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Very few industries debate whether work-life balance is possible as much as the legal sector does. It’s not only a badge of honor to be swamped with work, it’s the expectation. Tenured lawyers fare far better than newcomers, but 60-80 workweeks are the norm. Even “part-time” lawyers put in a solid 35 each week. However, research recently released indicates that practices absolutely must cut back hours and switch direction, or they’ll lose lawyers and clients.

The Way Practices Operate is Changing

For decades, lawyers have griped about the hours they put in, if anything is said at all. It’s a lifestyle, not a career, and most understand this before they get into it. Even still, burnout is common. CNN did a story a while back, covering the high suicide rates of lawyers. The profession ranks fourth on the list for the highest rate of suicides, right behind dentists, pharmacists, and physicians. They also noted that lawyers are 3.6-times more-likely to be depressed. Other estimates note that approximately one-in-six lawyers have a problem with alcohol. The long hours worked by a Colorado immigration lawyer also take their toll. One study showed that people who work just 55 hours per week have higher mortality rates. Most lawyers would call 55 hours a slow week. It was bound to happen, and now it has. The profession as a whole is migrating away from this type of business model, and people are much happier in their careers as a result. This is great news for lawyers, but it’s not so great if your practice operates using the older model. Lawyers are now flocking to firms that use the new models, and they’re taking business with them.

There are Five Main Emerging Business Models

The Center for WorkLife Law recently released a study that explores the mass exodus from traditional law firm models. In an effort to obtain a better work-life balance, many lawyers are moving to one of five emerging business models.

Secondment Firms: These firms specialize in placing lawyers inside companies, generally as temporary or part-time help. While senior lawyers are generally placed alone and handle all a client’s legal needs, junior lawyers are often brought in to assist an in-house legal team on an as-needed basis.

Legal Advice Companies: Nowadays, more people try to do as much as they can solo, though they appreciate having an experienced legal resource to defer to. Advice and consultancy companies fulfill this need.

Virtual Law Firms: Although some people are moving their practices online entirely alone, large firms are going this route as well. Lawyers often agree to work 10-20 hours per week, and receive an hourly rate.

Accordion Companies: Similar to secondment firms, accordion companies provide temporary staffing to firms on an as-needed basis.

Concierge: Many doctors have switched over to the concierge model over the past few years, and it’s catching on in the legal sector as well. Clients sign on and pay a monthly fee to retain services, and have access to their legal team during designated hours. There are many alternates to this, with varying fee structures and limitations on service.

Migrating to a Progressive Platform May Be Essential

It’s obvious that a change is warranted, and companies that are shifting over are dominating. Take Axiom, for instance. While totally unknown just a few years ago, the company began matching their lawyers with general counsel for large corporations. Now, about half of the Fortune 100 companies turn to Axiom for help with legal services. About a third of the nation’s largest 25 corporations are using Counsel on Call, a company that grew from nothing to $50 million in about 15 years. These types of environments are incredibly attractive to lawyers, especially those who struggle to keep up with personal obligations while working in excess of 60 hours per week. The models are also popular for clients, who don’t want to support a full in-house legal team, or who simply prefer the comfort of knowing help is available as it’s needed.

While an average firm may have trouble shifting over to an exact replica of one of these models, an innovative mind is sure to uncover a variant that will provide a smooth transition. If nothing else, perhaps reducing hours is enough to keep standard law firms staffed, but to manage the shift in consumer need, offices must start considering new models.

May 6, 2016 · Tim Kevan · Comments Closed
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