Even though the recession, downsizing, a poor job market, and declining demand for traditional legal services and billing continues to plague the industry, law firms recognize the need to retain their top talent, and therefore the need to address issues of work-life balance. The simple fact that it seems to be an employer’s market does not deceive law firm leaders that the true nature of things has not changed – it is still an employee’s market, as far as top talent is concerned, and the cost of replacing a key attorney or employee is difficult to measure.
So, addressing work-life balance remains an important issue in big law firms. It also factors in law firm ranking, and the ability to position a law firm as a chosen employer. But at the end, it boils down to higher productivity, and greater employee, associate, or partner autonomy - which are correlated.
However, despite being aware of the need to implement work-life balance, attorneys and law firm employees remain scared of using options offered by their law firms.
This happens because of a perception, which continues to be true in most cases, that despite identical performance, persons who take advantage of more work-life balance options and have less "face time" are perceived as having lower job-career dedication and lower advancement motivation and capability. The fear of being regarded in a poor light prevents many attorneys and associates from using available work-life balance options provided by their law firms, and consequently defeat the business objectives of the firm.
Increasing work-life balance options, of course, has similar benefits for law firms as it has for other professional service organizations. These include retention of talent, reducing costs associated with attrition and recruitment; greater utilization of office space through shifts, teleworking, and sharing of desk time; increasing diversity within the law firm, and increased productivity due to reduction of stress levels.
The four key areas that need to be kept in mind when addressing work-life balance issues in a law firm include: the range of work-life balance options available to employees; the involvement of top management in promoting work-life balance; the perception of work-life balance options in the workspace.
It has been proved by research that a greater range of work-life balance options offered by a law firm did not correlate with a greater use of such options by attorneys. This in turn negatively affects productivity and increases stress.
The reason employees and attorneys do not take advantage of work-life balance options is due to visible promotion of a work culture which is adverse to utilizing such options by the top management. Employees and attorneys usually find that despite identical performance, the top management prefers those who do not use many of their work-life balance options, and consequently, reduction of stress in the workplace and increase of productivity becomes difficult. It will continue to be so, unless top management involves itself in promoting work-life balance values.