Last week, I went to Chicago with the First Brother and Waskow. We went to a Cubs game Friday. It was a fantastic day off. Yet, what did I do as we approached the Cubbie Bear before the game? I lagged behind so that I could respond to a lawyer who had emailed me an ethics inquiry.
Not cool. I need to practice what I preach. And here’s today’s sermon in 4 points:
- It’s mid-July. A time for Vermonters to be on vacation.
- It’s also 2019. A time for everyone to be on a device (or 2 or 3).
- If you’re a legal professional on vacation, stop reading now!
- Put the device down, back away slowly, and resume your vacation.
Here’s the longer version.
Last week, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court received this report from its Steering Committee on Lawyer Well-Being. The report, which is like Vermont’s State Action Plan, includes an array of recommendations from various stakeholders within the profession that is incredibly thorough and well thought out.
The Massachusetts report identifies 8 “Major Issues Affecting Lawyer Well-Being.” They are:
- The pace of work
- Financial pressures
- Court deadlines & courtroom dynamics
- Alienation from a lack of diversity and inclusiveness
- Secondary Trauma
Over the next few months, I hope to touch on each. Today, I’m focusing on “the pace of work” as a major issue affecting lawyer well-being. In particular, I was struck by a theme that emerged from the Steering Committee and its subcommittees: take a vacation, including from your devices.
Here’s the opening paragraph from the section of the report that deals with “pace of work” as a “major issue affecting lawyer well-being.”
- “The pace of work: The relentless pace makes it very difficult for lawyers
to set boundaries between work and the rest of life, and appears to be significantly
exacerbated by the technology-fueled demands for constant availability. This point
was underscored by practitioners in firms of all sizes, public attorneys, and in-house counsel.”
From there, the report recommends that legal employers “encourage employees to take vacations.” The recommendation cites to a study of 6,000 lawyers that “found that their number of vacation days was the strongest predictor of well-being of all activities measured in the study – – even stronger than income level.”
The recommendation follows from the reports of the Steering Committee’s various subcommittee. For example:
The Subcommittee on Lawyer Well-Being noted that “work addiction” is 250% more prevalent among lawyers than nonlawyers and recommended that employers “encourage vacations.”
The Subcommittee on In-House Counsel found that “in-house counsel face the same pressures as other lawyers,” including “an expectation of 24/7 responsiveness.” As such, the subcommittee recommended that lawyers in supervisory roles should “encourage mental health days and vacation that specifically includes time away from work devices such as laptops and cell phones.”
The Large Firm Subcommittee cited several “major sources of stress.” Among them, a workload that causes lawyers to “feel pressure to avoid taking full vacations or otherwise establishing time blocks when they are not available to work.” Another source of stress:
- “Lack of boundaries: Lawyers often feel that there is no line between being ‘on’ and ‘off’ duty and that they are expected to be available to respond to firm and client demands at all hours of the day and night. As a result, there is no true ‘down time’ for lawyers when they can recharge and be fully present with other aspects of their lives.”
Thus, the subcommittee’s recommendations include:
- “Vacations. Lawyers should be encouraged to take their full allotment of
vacation time as an essential component of their job responsibilities. Lawyers should be discouraged from remaining ‘on the grid’ while on vacation. Lawyers should be encouraged to cover for others who are away so that any disruption of service to clients is minimal. Vacation time should be tracked and inquiry made by attorney supervisors or the human resources department if attorneys are failing to take most of their allotted time to make sure that the failure to take vacation is not an early warning sign of burn-out’ or other mental health issues.”
The Massachusetts Bar Association Subcommittee on Attorney Well-Being found that:
- “By far, the single most common cause of stress among all the disparate areas of legal practice was technology. The fact that technology allows attorneys to always be accessible to colleagues, partners, clients, and courts creates the expectation that they will always be accessible. Technology impacted the ability of attorneys to unwind, relax, and focus on the nonlegal aspects of their lives. They expressed concern that, if they do not respond to partners’ emails, texts or calls immediately, that they will lose their positions. They also believe that law firm culture demands that they remain accessible in order to meet billable hour requirements and to advance within the firm.”
- “Client expectations of full-time access with no boundaries is bolstered by the
competitive nature of the practice of law. Attorneys reported that they fear that clients who demand immediate responses to emails and cellphone access, regardless of the date and time, will go elsewhere if the attorneys do not respond quickly enough. Reviewing work emails, text messages, and responding to work-related phone calls at all hours interferes with family time, social interactions, and self-care. A common issue among the responding attorneys is that they feel they never truly get away from work to recharge.”
Then, the subcommittee recommended that legal employers “encourage vacations, set limits on client access, and allow attorneys to establish boundaries to allow them to devote time to self-care and family life, without fear of retribution.”
In sum, take a vacation. Not just from your job, but from your devices.