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I Read The News Today, Oh Boy

Now we know.

Not just how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall, but also, how many lawyers (as a statistical group) are disproportionately likely to suffer from one or more mental health challenges. And the number is devastating.

So, we know the "how many", but what about the "why"? At root, I would personally suggest it's clear:  The billable hour, and business/people practices that flow from it. Like most good ideas that turn out to be bad, I am remembered of two particular "truths" that were drilled into me by my partners, while I was practicing law: 1) "We need to run this firm like a business", and 2) "If you can't measure it, you can't manage it".

In response to the first "truth", I concede that a law firm is a business-- but people are not widgets, and they cannot be counted
(or accounted for) in the same way as a widget. With respect to the wisdom of the second "truth", I concede that a law firm cannot be managed the same way as a widget factory, but I flatly reject the notion that one should even try to do such a thing.

Basic human dignity demands an alternative, and considering the fact that the billable hour was first adopted by the legal profession only 100 years ago, one has to believe that there are-- at the very least-- one or two alternatives. Indeed, I recently listened to a fascinating podcast, featuring the Managing Partner of a successful Australian law firm in Sydney-- Marque Law-- in which he made a compelling case for abandoning the billable hour, as a metric for measuring the performance of lawyers.

The alternative he described is colloquially referred to as, "purpose-driven billing"-- examining the quality of a lawyer's work, and the quality of a lawyer's relationships-- both of which are, concededly, subjective and difficult to assess. But, as the gentleman dryly noted, "Time-generators are not necessarily good lawyers"-- I'd say he scored a perfect 10, for understatement!

Quality can be the subject of debate, but to quote the gentleman again, "We all know it, without [looking at] billing sheets". Will lawyers' mental health magically improve if the billable hour is replaced, or modified, as the gold standard of metrics in a law firm? Of course not-- but the challenge will, in all likelihood, most certainly improve.

Lawyer well-being (which unquestionably impacts mental health) is something to which the legal profession needs to wake up-- and address. I suggest that part of that process should include a frank assessment of the billable hour.

As the Beatles' John Lennon famously said, "I'd love to turn you on". Let's do him (them) one better-- let's turn ourselves on!



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