Law Firms and Work/Life Balance

Posted by Alex Palmer on October 10, 2008

By Alexandra Haake

As companies continue to hand out the pink slips in an effort to reduce costs and weather the economic storm, they are also looking at conventional, and not so conventional, ways in the case of law firms to retain top talent. An article in today's Los Angeles Times depicts another tale in the saga of women's choice: pursue a successful career or raise a family?

Law firms are generally slow to change their corporate culture, stigmatized as requiring excruciatingly long hours of dedication and for their boy’s club practices of cigars, brandy and client schmoozing. The article points out that in the past two decades women comprised almost half of all law school graduates and half of the new hires at the country’s largest firms. Almost just as many (42 percent) leave their legal professions mid-career—believing that it’s impossible to reconcile the concepts of advancing into higher echelons of the legal field and raising a family. As a result, only 16 percent of equity partners throughout the country are women, and even less are in the top management positions.

Firms should really be making a bigger effort to retain their talented female workforce, if for no other reason than to help their bottom line. The article notes that a firm can lose anywhere from $200,000 to $500,000 when a second year associate leaves the job. Managers should understand the cost involved with hiring and training, even if it necessitates undoing preconceived notions of a particular line of work. An effective way to do this is by providing an incentive package that is both a well-deserved perk and a clear message that says, “we want you, and we will adapt our conventional business practices to accommodate you and your family.”

We all know that benefits such as flex-time and paid maternity (and even paternity!) leave have ushered in a new era of improved work-life balance…and let’s not forget to hail the Blackberry for allowing us to leave our desks and still be available. Perhaps the most interesting point of this article, though, was the idea that the clients are the ones pushing for more flexible work arrangements because they are aware of the importance of a well-represented team. “There’s nothing more insulting to a jury than seeing a woman there only to carry a briefcase.” If nothing else but to attract and appease clients, there are ways to transform business culture into a more family-friendly one without sacrificing the core values of your business.

Work/Life Balance, Circa 1985

Posted by Leo Jakobson on February 15, 2008

An interesting piece of research came across my desk recently. A poll sponsored by LifeCare, a provider of specialty care services to corporate employees, including child and elder care, found that 77 percent of its client company’s 4.5 million employees expect to be the primary caregiver of an older loved one within the next five years.

The release sent out about this survey quoted LifeCare’s CEO as saying: “For employers, the impact to productivity and the bottom line could be quite significant.” Which seems like something of an understatement.

This got me thinking back to my high school years, when it was becoming clear that my grandmother would not be able to live on her own for much longer. My mother and I lived in a small fourth-floor walk-up in New York City that wouldn’t hold three people comfortably. Thrown in a strong-willed, stubborn grandmother, and it was a recipe for disaster. And there certainly wasn’t money for a decent nursing home, not anywhere close to New York City, anyway. In retrospect, Mom’s work/life balance was very close to collapse.

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Veteran Nurse Blasts Recruiting Via Cash Incentive

Posted by Leo Jakobson on May 03, 2007

Thanks to the wonderful world of Google News’ search capabilities, I came across a fascinating Letter to the Editor published today in the Regina Leader-Post, a daily newspaper in Saskatchewan, Canada. In it, a nurse with 30 years experience in hospital critical-care units takes a scalpel to a cash-based incentive program the provincial health care authority is using to recruit nurses in this scarce specialty. Recruiting and retaining nurses is a topic Incentive has covered a number of times in the past year, including last month’s Playbook case study ["Nursing a Referral Program"] and our April 2006 cover story ["RN: Retention Necessary"]. I found the lengthy letter an interesting take on the downside of cash-heavy recruitment programs—from an insiders perspective—that so many hospitals have turned to in the face of a systemic shortage of nurses plaguing much of the world, including the U.S. and Canada. In her letter, Pamela Richaud, a surgical intensive care unit (ICU) nurse in Regina, Saskatchewan, says that a C$10,000 bonus being offered to nurses who will take a critical-care certification course and agree to work two years in a provincial ICU is causing “dissention” between unit veterans and the newcomers.

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Weak, Ugly Need Not Apply

Posted by Rebekah Tsadik on October 26, 2006

Flexible hours, telecommuting options and on-site provisions usually top the list of work/life balance accommodations, but a few articles look at other factors that effect employee performance. Below, a few challenges to the workplace experience that can’t simply be tackled through cutesy programs: 

   What to do when sports events become distractions at work?  A Detroit News article looks at the relationship between sports teams’ performance, worker productivity and how employers respond. Some use sporting events to unite employees, announcing scores over loudspeakers; others try to quell the excitement. 
   Hopefully, a team win doesn’t incite the bullies in the office.  Workplace bullying and harassment occurs more frequently than you may think, says an article in the Guardian Unlimited.  Negative effects are a given, including decreased morale.
   Don't let a sad employee reflect poorly on your brand! Good looks are an important hiring factor in positions that involve much face time with clients. You can always hire a "personal-branding consultant."

"I'm Also Gonna Need You To Go Ahead And Come In On Sunday, Too..."

Posted by Rebekah Tsadik on October 20, 2006

Worklife_balanceI'm writing an article about work/life balance and the benefits reaped for both companies and employees from flexible policies; these range from allowing time off for family emergencies (health problems/ pregnancies) or work-from-home options. For the most part, feedback on these types of programs is positive, but some companies risk crossing the line from aiding work/life balance to interference in employees' non-working lives.

Employees’ personal habits are having a greater influence on hiring and firing decisions and company policies, says Washington Post columnist Amy Joyce. Laws and practices vary from state to state on what which out-of-office behaviors are worth criticizing—from charging fees for employees who smoke or firing unrepentant smokers (because they’ll likely end up being a greater drain on the company’s health insurance) to turning away a job applicant for content on a social networking site (because they sound kind of like a drug dealer).

Do these kinds of policies lead to motivation or discrimination?