Skilled at analyzing clients’ problems from every viewpoint, lawyers traditionally have not applied that same introspective lens to our own careers. This goes beyond the review of a compensation package and understanding the value of your insurance benefits or retirement contributions. The practice of law is all-consuming, and understanding the culture associated with one’s firm, versus the opportunities available at another, is incredibly important in determining the best practice venue or what considerations your firm should offer for proactive cultural growth.
Rigid requirements regarding the specifics of how legal services are provided have dictated the profession. The growth of legal technology, cybersecurity, and a general shift in corporate cultures, however, have led to many workplace changes. A new section was added to the 2019 Legal Technology Survey Report, relating to life and practice, to address the interest of our community. Based on the responses from 647 attorneys in private practice who are also members of the ABA, we were able to quantitatively analyze many aspects of attorneys’ professional life and application to their personal lives. The respondents were comprised of 25% sole practitioners, 31% at firms of 2-9 attorneys, 17% at firms of 10-49 attorneys, 5% at firms of 50-99 attorneys, 9% at firms of 100-499 attorneys, and 13% at firms of 500+ attorneys.
The distribution of respondents was fairly equally divided among the various practice areas of law. The top primary practice areas among respondents were: litigation (27%); estates, wills, and trusts (18%); real estate (17%); corporate (14%); contracts and commercial law tied at 11%, general practice (10%), and family law and employment/labor law tied at 9%.
The average age of all respondents was 57 years old. 25% of respondents who were admitted to the bar for under 30 years were at firms with 100+ attorneys, while 66% of respondents who had practiced for more than 30 years were sole practitioners. 71% of respondents were male and 28% were female. The gender gap was most significant for respondents 60 years of age or older, with 85% of respondents being male and 15% female; the gender gap narrowed among the 40-49 age group (53% male and 46% female). 38% of males and 35% of females were partners at their firms, though only 7% of females versus 18% of males were managing partners. 27% of males and 23% of females were solo practitioners and 19% of females and 7% of males were associates. Though the gender gap continues to decrease, it is statistically significant that at the leadership level there were 11% less managing partners that were female versus the 3% of partners.
Fees and Billing
The traditional hourly billing model is slowly starting to shift. Overall, only 71% of respondents employed hourly billing; others reported 13% using fixed fees, 10% using contingency fees, and 6% reported alternative fee arrangements. Solo practitioners had the highest percentage of fixed fees at 21%, small firms had the highest number of contingency matters at 19%, and 89% of respondents from firms with 100+ lawyers provided services at an hourly rate.
Changes in billing practices have been largely driven by client demand. Hourly billing generally rewards inefficiencies and tends to lead lawyers away from employing technological solutions. In order to meet the new demands that continue to evolve, implementing alternative billing models and technological solutions will ensure the ability to maintain a competitive edge versus losing clients.
Work Location and Flexibility
The traditional 9-5 (or 8-7) behind a desk in an office with the rest of your colleagues still represents the majority of firms, with 69% of respondents reporting that they work at a traditional office space owned/leased exclusively by their firm. It’s not surprising that 88% of lawyers working at large law firms identified their space as a traditional office owned by the firm. Solo respondents are most likely to work from a home office (34%). Technology has expanded the ability to work anywhere, anytime with the advent of telecommuting. This option has expanded from conference calling capabilities to remote logins, cloud computing, video conferencing, and virtual project management team rooms. No longer is it as necessary to make the daily trek to the office or incur the expense of traveling to meet a client. Yet, surprisingly, only 55% of respondents overall reported that they telecommute, with 60% at larger firms, followed by 56% of solos. What are the barriers to greater implementation? 5% of respondents reported that it was prohibited by their office policies while 3% stated that they did not have the necessary technology.
If these attorneys are no longer working in their office, where do they physically perform their job? We’ve seen a decrease in attorneys telecommuting from public places and coffee shops. That may be in response to the creation of official telecommuting policies and the associated security concerns. In a profession that requires confidentiality, working in public spaces does carry risk: do not take confidential calls in public spaces, make sure that you have your own hotspot which can be activated on smartphones, do not log on to the coffee shop’s free WiFi.
Since 2016, telecommuting from hotels has diminished from 47% to 26%. It was not uncommon that attorneys would travel to meet with clients and then telecommute from a hotel back to the office. Instead, these days, technology permits attorneys to telecommute with the client.
If you have a quiet and confidential space in your home, it can be the best place from which to telecommute, according to 88% of respondents. If you intend to do this regularly, invest in the necessary technology to ensure that your work is uninterrupted with high-speed internet, a printer, secure laptop, paper shredder, and use a secure cloud server for easiest access to your materials whether you are in the office or at home.
It appears that there are still lawyers and law firms who have not discovered the value of telecommuting. An impressive 90% of respondents from firms with 100+ attorneys reported flexible work schedules, however, only 53% said they were likely to take advantage of it. In order to truly effectuate policy change, it is important to take advantage of the opportunities presented. 30% of respondents reported that telecommuting permitted them to be more flexible, and 25% said it provided flexibility surrounding family obligations. We have a culture of relentless connectivity from smartphones, smartwatches, and internet access across the globe. Accordingly, taking advantage of workplace flexibility can have a positive overall effect on work-life balance.
Office designs are often revisited and revised based on aesthetics and work environment theories. Historically, the closed door and quiet layout was the norm. Then there was the transition to all-glass offices. Recently, the open concept environment has been gaining popularity, with 7% of respondents reporting that their space was primarily shared or semi-private as opposed to an office or cubicle (though 92% reported having a permanently assigned desk). The highest percentage of respondents in an open office were solos in real estate (10%), while only 2% of attorneys in firms of 100+ used an open office.
Some of the potential benefits supporting the open office concept were: ease of communication (53%), collaboration (40%), and cost (20%). 15% reported that there was no benefit, and, in fact, a majority of respondents discussed the disadvantages surrounding lack of privacy (65%) and office chatter (51%). Investment in office space and design is important and costly. Ensure that you get buy-in from your employees and attempt to match the appropriate workspace with the most conducive for their work style instead of relying on short-lived trends.
Smartphones and Security
The advent of handheld wireless technology that allows access to your entire office from anywhere has really been a game-changer. Despite this advance, 2% of the lawyers surveyed reported that they do not own a smartphone. There are days that the ability to disconnect seems enviable, but generally speaking, smartphones have facilitated the completion of ongoing obligations with more flexibility.
As technology advances, we have seen a shift in what devices are used. Blackberries were previously the industry standard, but the 2019 Surveydemonstrated that 79% of respondents were using an iPhone, 18% of respondents were using Android, and only 1% use Blackberry.
If your mobile device is used for business, who is responsible for the purchase of the equipment and monthly service fees? 75% of solo practitioners reported that their work paid for their mobile phones. Only 26% of respondents from firms of 100+ attorneys reported cell phone compensation, even though 84% of those attorneys reported that their smartphone was the method they primarily used to access emails outside of work. Even more interesting was that only 15% of respondents from firms of 100+ used their laptops for accessing email outside of the office, demonstrating a large shift to mobile lawyering. Overall, 58% of respondents strongly agreed that being constantly connected to technology makes it easier to balance work and family obligations.
Smartphone technology can be a clear value-add, but there are security concerns. Approximately 95% of respondents use some form of password protection. Make sure that you employ longer passcodes, set up two-factor authentication, have multiple layers of security for work-related information that you access from your phone, and turn on your tracking software (less than 38% of respondents said they did so). Pro tip: if you lose your iPhone, you can use FindMyPhone to emit a very loud sound so you can locate it deep in the couch cushions instead of panicking for the next 30 minutes. If you do not locate your phone, you should be prepared to wipe your data to prevent anyone who may have obtained your device from maliciously accessing confidential materials. It is a good practice to back-up your device. There are cloud options so you don’t need to plug it into your computer (which I know you only do after you cracked the screen and need to get an upgrade). Don’t avoid technology due to security fears. There are plenty of safeguards in place to permit you to securely employ these solutions.
Education and Training
The practice of law requires a lifetime commitment to learning. Some firms support their attorney’s endeavors in a holistic fashion while others have rigid requirements and restrictions. 72% of respondents stated that their firms required ethics training. 92% of respondents at firms with 100+ attorneys were required to have security and cybersecurity training as opposed to 41% of solos. In order to facilitate this, 91% of respondents reported that their firms pay for CLEs and 90% pay for bar association dues. Ongoing education should be supported, and some form of CLE should be required in order to stay compliant with ethical obligations.
There is a significant difference between firms of less than 50 and those with 100+ attorneys in regard to required training. Workplace harassment (93%), diversity (79%), and implicit bias (74%) were all required for the larger firms, whereas smaller firms reported under 44% for workplace harassment, 21% for diversity, and 17% for implicit bias. Compared to smaller firms, a larger number of solos reported diversity training (25%) and implicit bias training (24%).
In order to access these opportunities, travel may be required. 68% of respondents stated they’d be interested in traveling for professional conferences. 74% of associates expressed an interest as well, though only 7% noted having the opportunity to do so regularly. Managing partners (30%) were the most likely to attend professional meetings that required travel. It is important to provide opportunities and experiences for our young professionals. Their voice is relevant at the table, and though it seems like an expensive investment (55% said travel costs and 45% noted registration costs as obstacles to attending), investigate stipends, scholarships, and fellowships that can fund these opportunities and fulfill their interests. Accordingly, young attorneys should take the initiative to identify these opportunities even if not spearheaded by their firms.
Benefits in addition to cash compensation can be more valuable than many people realize. 73% of respondents stated that their firms offered a retirement plan. Over 90% of larger firm attorneys have retirement plans, with the lowest number attributed to solos (42%). As life expectancies continue to rise, averaging around 80 years old, contributing to your retirement is a wise investment. While there are plenty of colleagues in the profession who may work until their final days, many may want to retire and will require the financial flexibility to cease the practice of law. If you are not taking advantage of this benefit that is already offered, do so; if it is not offered, speak with your employer to see if they would consider including a contribution and propose a well-researched option.
With regard to insurance, only 75% of respondents worked for firms that offer health care, 53% of respondent’s firms offer life insurance, 42% offer short-term disability, and 50% offer long-term disability. Only 35% of solo practitioners obtained health insurance through their practice versus 98% of firms of 10-49 attorneys and 100% of lawyers at firms of 50+. Insurance service providers can assist in selecting plans that are catered toward your firm’s needs. The offering of insurance benefits often distinguishes your firm in the recruitment process and has a positive effect on the workplace culture as a whole.
There are a number of different types of leave policies such as sick leave, family leave, holidays, vacation, etc. Corporate culture has begun to embrace the idea of unlimited paid time off (PTO), a.k.a. get your work done when it’s due = keep your job. The legal profession is well situated to permit unlimited PTO, especially for those with a minimum billable requirement, but overall only 18% of firms offer unlimited PTO. Given the change in corporate culture and how the legal profession seems to slowly follow, I project that we will see a significant uptick of this benefit being offered in the next couple of years (and if we don’t, we should).
The term “work-life balance” becomes even more relevant as families begin to grow. There are many important aspects an employer can support during this transition: providing health insurance, offering paid maternity and paternity leave for at least 12 weeks and genuinely encouraging all employees to take advantage of this benefit, lowering billable requirements for that year, and having someone handling their cases and ensuring clients know not to contact the individual on leave, to name just a few. At least 38% of firms did not offer paid maternity leave (13% did not know), and 70% of respondents stated that their firm did not offer paternity leave. Unfortunately, this is most significant for solos (84%) versus only 1% of large firms who do not offer leave. 47% of solos who had maternity leave available at their firms, were allowed 6-11 weeks; firms with 2-9 attorneys averaged 34% for less than six weeks, and firms with 100+ attorneys provided the most time: 12 or more weeks of paid leave.
Once you return to work, there are still additional considerations. Breastfeeding mothers should be provided with a private lactation space, though only 23% of respondents reported having a mother’s room. Childcare is also an important benefit, but only 17% of firms reported having childcare benefits, 1% with on-site childcare and 6% with back-up childcare. With the demands placed on new families just months after having a child, we need to evaluate how we can support their return to work and ongoing family obligations.
Overall, employee well-being is an important aspect of work-life balance. The leading amenity provided by firms was gym access. 46% of respondents at firms of 100+ attorneys reported gym access, versus only 6% of solos. Out of all additional amenities that were not currently offered, having access to a gym was the most desired by 15% of respondents. More businesses are becoming pet-friendly, with 25% of firms of 2-9 welcoming our furry friends, but 2% of firms of 100+ attorneys had a pet-friendly policy. Other well-being options offered at firms include employee appreciation events (52%), staff meals (48%), extra holidays (36%), family-friendly outings (35%), volunteer work (32%), fitness incentive programs (15%), and intramural sports (10%). Health and wellness is a critical aspect of one’s overall well being, which has a significant positive effect on the overall workplace. Healthier employees have greater job satisfaction and require less time off.
Firms and employees should audit their current offerings and consider implementing many aspects reviewed in the “Life and Practice” volume of the 2019 Survey for the benefit of their employees, practice, and profession.