Summary: Here are the top 5 ways you can let associates know that the work they are doing is important, that their well-being is important, and that their opinions matter.
The economy has clearly put a new twist on the problem of work-addicted attorneys in the law profession. In addition to trying to meet already high billable hour expectations, many associates, confronted with newspaper headlines informing us of lawyers at all levels being dismissed with little or no warning, are running scared and doing unnecessary work. And their firms' failure to communicate what is expected of associates is pushing new lawyers to work even longer and harder. This lack of communication increases associates' insecurities and leads to less efficient work habits. They constantly worry about their performance and often work a record-breaking number of hours to cover all contingencies. While clearly some projects do require huge time investments on short notice, employers should help young lawyers recognize the real crises and conserve energy for those times.
Unfortunately, a vested economic interest in keeping billable hour requirements high and long work hours the norm prevents many employers from giving serious attention to employees' workaholic habits. Firm culture dictates that time devoted to non-client matters should be used to discuss "real" economic issues like marketing strategies, rainmaking, and billable hours. In a profession where strategic planning is viewed as "sissy stuff", it is not surprising that managing partners fail to consider work-addicted attorneys a top priority. Firm leaders, however, should recognize that turning their backs on this problem will, in the long run, prove detrimental to the organization. In their adamant desire to concentrate their energies on "real'' economic issues rather than people concerns, they fail to see the relationship between the two. They remain unaware that without building a loyal team of lawyers, the economic issues will never be resolved.