While the primary responsibility for wellness rests with the individual, nothing is more important to a law practice than its lawyers and staff. The “firm” – Big Law or a solo practice – can do nothing without people; the better those people feel, the more productive they will be, and the more profitable the firm will be. It follows that a firm has an interest in helping its people be healthy and well. How can a firm help?
Reduce Stress: Some stress is inherent and necessary in a law practice. Reducing unnecessary stress, however, will have a positive impact on health and wellness. A feeling of “not being in control” is a major source of stress and is frequently both unnecessary and avoidable with proper communication. For example, when giving work assignments, the lawyer should give clear instructions as to what the recipient is to do and by when; don’t make the recipient guess or stressed by mentioning the next day you needed it by 5:00 yesterday. Don’t dump work on someone’s desk if you don’t know what is already there – all it takes to avoid that stress is communication.
Have firm-wide policies on internal response times. People can get more work done in an hour or two of uninterrupted time than in a day full of interruptions. If you give an associate or assistant a plate full of important assignments, then expect them to answer every email – no matter how trivial – from a partner within ten minutes, you are not promoting heath and wellness – just the opposite. Allow lock-down times.
Help your lawyers with a firm-wide policy for managing client expectations. The client only has one lawyer but the lawyer has many clients. If every client expects to manage the lawyer’s time by getting an instant response 24/7, that lawyer will be facing excessive stress and some disappointed clients. The firm should insist on setting the clients’ expectations on communications and response times in an engagement letter so the lawyer can live (a bit more) happily ever after.