The legal industry has a lawyer well-being problem. We’ve known this for some time. In the best of times, we are reminded of it only from a distance — like when a new pledge is distributed for organizations to sign and post on social media. In the worst of times, it hits close to home, as we are faced directly with the loss of our colleagues. So far, efforts to remedy the situation have fallen flat.
Recent analysis shows that technology has the potential to positively impact lawyer well-being. But to secure lasting progress, a critical first step is to develop relevant metrics to ensure tech is being used to its highest advantage, with improved well-being singled out as a primary objective.
When Work and Life Collide
Adding to long-standing issues of depression, substance abuse, and suicide in the legal industry, pandemic-initiated challenges have brought discussion of well-being back to the fore. The 24/7 work culture is now a reality, and those previously able to compartmentalize the different areas of their lives are now facing the challenge of acting in multiple roles all at the same time: worker, partner, caregiver, and teacher. Working from home has blurred the lines between work and life so much that it’s nearly impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins.
But those who seek real improvement have a golden opportunity: Take advantage of the current climate of change to implement targeted well-being measures at the operational level. And tech just may be the vehicle to usher in the transformation.
What Can Legal Tech Do for You?
If you’ve been reading our analyses, you already know the answer to this question — at least in broad strokes. Legal tech can combat workflow challenges, increase efficiency, allow for a more flexible workflow, and help us stay connected even when we’re far, far away. Often undervalued, however, is what legal tech can do for well-being.
Though seemingly innocuous, small wins by tech can have a great impact on well-being, particularly during times of uncertainty. Seeing coworkers, even if only on screen, can provide some much-needed normalcy to the workday and create a greater feeling of connection. Tech also allows more flexibility in workflows, which is crucial to those who now serve in multiple roles throughout the day. And reducing time spent on routine tasks allows lawyers to focus on more substantive work, which can improve work satisfaction.
Because of legal tech’s positive impacts upon workflows (e.g., more time spent on higher-level tasks, less attention needed on lower-level tasks, reduced time to complete tasks overall), nearly half (46%) of respondents to Bloomberg Law’s 2020 Legal Technology Survey reported an increase in well-being — but only somewhat.
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As previously reported, although well-being is somewhat being improved by legal tech, there is potential for a greater impact. For this to happen, however, organizations must modify their approach.
What Can You Do for Legal Tech?
Legal tech does not exist to solve all of your problems. But without metrics or key performance indicators (KPIs) in place to evaluate its performance, it’s hard to know whether legal tech is solving even some of your problems. Only 7% of organizations are using formal metrics to evaluate their tech, and well-being is identified rarely, even as an informal measurement of value. If organizations measure what they value, these organizations risk sending the message that they don’t see well-being gains as part of the value proposition of their legal tech.
What would well-being metrics be, you ask? Elements that can be easily tracked include: attorney time spent on routine tasks, ease of use, overall workload, billable hours, and billable hours compared to total hours worked. However, when considering well-being, these elements may need to be viewed in a different light than organizations are accustomed to. After all, targeted billable hours for revenue purposes may be in direct conflict with targeted billable hours for well-being purposes.
Think outside the box about which metrics are valuable and how the compiled information could be used. Track time spent communicating with technical support, as this time may signal worker frustration. Track time spent increasing or teaching others tech skills; for firms, consider giving billable-hour credits to those engaging in such activities. Offer incentives to workers who are able to integrate workload reduction measures into their projects. Reward vendors that are able to measurably reduce workloads through product customizations. Provide incentives to attorneys who work hours that are deemed reasonable, instead of providing the greatest rewards to those who work the most hours.
When making strategic changes to tech offerings based on defined targets, those in procurement positions should seek to capitalize on leadership’s openness to legal technologies and push to advance tech use with the intent of addressing lawyer well-being. Well-being advocates and would-be trailblazers: Now is your time to speak up. Leadership is listening.
It’s Never Just One Thing
Identifying well-being as an industry standard metric for evaluating tech would push the industry to measure and benchmark its efforts. To truly make an impact, the industry needs a holistic approach to well-being, because it’s never just one thing.
It may take some time for the industry to make real change, but in the meantime: Be kind to one another, be kind to yourself, know your limits, place value in things beyond your work, and show tolerance and understanding to others in the industry, even if they’re the opposition — it’s very likely they understand the pressures of the job and what you’re going through better than anyone else. And as you move up the ladder, keep these things in mind and pass them on to to those who look to you for guidance.
Access additional analyses from our Bloomberg Law 2021 series here, including pieces covering trends in Litigation, Transactions & Markets, the Future of the Legal Industry, and ESG.
Bloomberg Law subscribers can find related content on our In Focus: Legal Technology and In Focus: Lawyer Well-Being resources.
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