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Arguing With Zombies

Who are the "zombies"? In the legal profession, they're the women and men who defend and protect the billable hour-- a management metric that was first suggested, then implemented (depending upon what resource(s) one consults), less than 100 years ago.

For my generation, and the generation (or two) of lawyers who preceded me, the billable hour has been THE gold standard of law firm management. The billing statements sent to clients by my first firm had a quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln, printed across the top: "A lawyer's time, is his stock in trade". Get the idea?

Victims of the billable hour? Clients, the public-at-large-- even lawyers, themselves. Oh yeah, and one other particularly significant victim. One that is very much about lawyers, and is even more important to the future of the profession than the generous compensation the profession promises for the most successful of us: LawyerWell-Being.

Yes, influencing human behavior is incredibly complicated, but before one even begins to address that concern, one must first confront the tyranny of the billable hour and the vice-like grip that it has on the legal profession. Too many lawyers today care more about money and prestige, than they care about themselves-- or their clients.

Money and prestige will trump empathy and self-care every day because, among other things, they are relatively easy to measure and manage. Well-being is not, and for many of the profession's managers, the concept of lawyer well-being is anathema to the billable hour-- an idea to which lip service will be paid (much like the idea of diversity, 10 or more years ago), though resources are scarce and minimal.

Last year. the American Bar Association's CoLAP committee championed an aspirational campaign designed to promote lawyer well-being, known as the Well-Being Pledge. To memorialize those efforts, a whitepaper was published to celebrate the initiative, but it concluded with a few words about an ominous "common challenge"
that had been noted by many of the signatories:

          Those in charge of well-being initiatives repeatedly
          lamented the difficulty in getting lawyers, staff and firm
          management to pay attention.... Th[e] perceived competition
          between taking time for self-care and putting in time
          towards billable hours lies at the crux of the lawyer well-
          being movement. 
(Emphasis added).

Something's gotta give, but don't tell that to the zombies!


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