Big Law should cap lawyer work hours and encourage vacations to improve job satisfaction that worsened during the Covid-19 pandemic, a New York State Bar Association panel said.
Firms should consider capping annual billable hours at 1,800 and urge attorneys to take the “full allotment” of their vacation and parental leave time, the panel said in a 165-page report approved by the bar’s House of Delegates.
The profession should view the findings as “illuminating, sobering, and ultimately galvanizing,” the Task Force on Attorney Well-Being said in the report. “We must move beyond blame and shame.”
The report comes amid mounting evidence that lawyer well-being has worsened during the pandemic. Seventeen percent of lawyers said they increased their use of drugs or alcohol, or felt they needed to cut back or quit those substances, according to a bar survey in the fall of 2020.
An increasing number of lawyers also reported suffering a mental health “event” like anxiety or depression during the pandemic, said task force co-chair Libby Coreno, general counsel to Bonacio Construction in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. “These numbers were staggering for us,” she said.
The pandemic pushed often-reluctant lawyers to talk about work-inspired stress and its sometimes devastating impacts, including suicidal ideation, Coreno said.
“We have a vulnerability issue and an armor issue,” she said. “Covid has ripped the lid off and allowed us to talk about these things.”
The task force came up with the 1,800 billable-hour figure after hearing several attorneys report that their firms “topped out” at 2,200 hours, Coreno said.
“The collective belief was that it was actually a sustainable number,” she said of 1,800.
The latest installment of a Bloomberg Law analysis of lawyer hours and workload, released Monday, concluded that despite recent signs of less job burnout, general attorney well-being hasn’t improved in recent months. Other recent surveys have shown that during the pandemic, lawyers of color had been hit harder than others.