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ABA report provides post-pandemic advice for lawyers

Stacked3Here is a recent Daily Record column. My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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ABA Report Provides Post-Pandemic Advice For Lawyers

 

The pandemic and its effects have dramatically affected the practice of law and will continue to to have a long-term impact on the ways that legal work is conducted in the years to come. The good news is that now that vaccine rates are on the rise in the United States, it’s possible for members of the legal profession to envision and prepare for the post-pandemic world.

That’s where a new report issued by the ABA Coordinating Group on Practice Forward comes in. This Report was published a few weeks ago and is designed to increase understanding about both the impact of the pandemic on the practice of law and predictions about the future of the legal profession.

The Report, “Practicing Law in the Pandemic and Moving Forward: Results and Best Practices from a Nationwide Survey of the Legal Profession,” was based on input from 4,200 ABA members “from all geographic areas, practice settings, sizes of firms, corporations, and organizations, levels of experience, age, family status, races and ethnicities, types of gender identity, and types of disabilities.” The results cover a broad range of topics such as the impact of the pandemic on the legal profession, the post-pandemic expectations of lawyers, the impact of the pandemic on diversity and inclusion, and recommendations for both legal employers and individual lawyers.

The Report included, among other things, recommendations for lawyers seeking to take advantage the “new normal” on the other side of the pandemic. For example, one key piece of advice contained in the Report for lawyers in leadership positions is that they should take steps to maintain law firm culture now that working remotely has become commonplace and will likely continue in the post-pandemic world.

Notably, the authors emphasized the importance of having the technology in place to facilitate communicating and collaborating with work colleagues regardless of where they happen to be working: “(T)he pandemic has underscored the importance of collaboration, communication, and teamwork. Going forward, organizations need to better understand how to foster resilient, effective and gritty teams that can work well together, rather than a culture where lawyers are siloed, rarely interact at a personal level, and are prone to hoarding work or clients for themselves.”

Another key piece of advice from the Report is the need for law firm leaders to prioritize technology spend in order build in business resiliency. This is because the pandemic ushered in a remote working revolution, and out of necessity, most law firms were eventually able to put technology stacks into place during the pandemic. More often than not the tools relied upon to facilitate remote work included cloud-based tools since putting that software in place was the only way to ensure continued operation and financial stability.

For many firms, those technologies now play an important part in their business continuity plan and help to protect the firms from the effects of another unplanned disruption. According to the authors of the Report, this built-in business resiliency is one of the keys to success in the post-pandemic world: “If the profession is to move forward to more remote working, employers need to provide both state-of-the-art technology and readily available staff to help out when glitches arise. It could, for example, be a good investment for firms to provide stipends that help lawyers, as well as staff and paralegals, to obtain the resources that they need to sustain a home office…”

Finally, the authors of the Report suggested that the pandemic offers the legal profession an opportunity to restructure the way that law firms operate. For far too long legal employers have remained stubbornly resistant to fundamental changes and have insisted that alternative ways of practicing law, such as remote work, were an impossibility given the nature of the practice of law.

As the authors explain, the pandemic has shown that their protestations were grounded in outdated assumptions, rather than in facts: “The unprecedented transition to remote work has truly created a ‘new normal,’ and this paradigm shift will have far-reaching consequences for the profession well after the pandemic has abated…As we emerge from the pandemic, we have the unique opportunity to re-evaluate and reimagine all aspects of the practice of law. For too many years, law firms, companies, and other work settings that employ lawyers have defaulted to structures, policies, and practices that are a carryover from decades-old approaches to hiring, retention, advancement, compensation, and diversity.”

Hear hear! It’s high time that we reimagined the practice of law by taking full advantage of the many benefits offered by technology. Is your law firm ready for the “new normal”? If not, what are you waiting for? There’s no better time than now to prepare for the future of law practice by laying the technological building blocks for success in the post-pandemic world.

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney, author, journalist, and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase  law practice management software for small law firms. She is the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a Thomson Reuters treatise. She writes legal technology columns for Above the Law and ABA Journal and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. You can follow her on Twitter at @nikiblack or email her at niki.black@mycase.com.


It’s lawyer well-being week, so make sure to take care of yourself

Stacked3Here is a recent Daily Record column. My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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It’s not easy being a lawyer. Even though it’s a fulfilling profession, practicing law can be also be stressful. That’s why the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being established Lawyer Well-Being Week, and the goal is to ensure that lawyers focus on wellness and take steps to reduce their stress levels. This year it’s scheduled for May 3rd to the 7th and we happen to be in the midst of it as I write this article.

Unfortunately, according to the results of a recently released report from the ABA, many lawyers rarely take are of themselves as well as they should. The most recent edition of the report, “The ABA Profile of the Profession” was released last year and is full of lots of statistics that show just how stressed out lawyers can be.

The data in this Report is particularly relevant given the negative impact that COVID-19 has had on mental health. The difficulties encountered when working from home combined with the effects of social distancing have amplified the pressures that are unique to lawyering. And the resulting elevated stress levels often have disastrous effects.

For example, according to the Report, lawyers are susceptible to higher rates of depression, addiction, and suicide compared to the general population. The data from the Report shows that 21% of lawyers qualify as problem drinkers, which is more than three times the rate of the general population and nearly double the rate for other highly educated professionals. Also notable is that 28% of lawyers struggle with depression as well and 19% also have symptoms of anxiety. Given these statistics, it’s not surprising to learn that 11.5% have suicidal thoughts as well.

Lawyers with depression or addiction issues are also more likely to face disciplinary charges. This is because when lawyers suffer from the effects of addiction and/or mental illness, their struggle affects their ability to practice law effectively. That’s why the survey results showed 25% to 30% of lawyers facing disciplinary charges suffer from some type of addiction or mental illness.

Unfortunately, despite the high numbers of stressed-out lawyers, many law firms fail to provide attorneys with sufficient mental health resources and support. In fact, the results of the report indicate that only 16% of lawyers strongly agreed that their firms were very supportive of their mental health needs. Another 6% strongly agreed that their firms didn’t support them at all. And only 26% of lawyers surveyed reported that their firms provided information on 12-step programs or other mental health resources.

However, it’s important to note that legal employers aren’t entirely to blame for the lack of lawyer wellness. The failure of lawyers to prioritize their mental health and work-life balance are also contributing factors to their stress levels. For example, 38% of lawyers surveyed indicated they often work long hours, and 9% admitted that they “never stop working.” A full quarter of lawyers surveyed reported that they failed to take adequate breaks during during their workday, and 32% felt pressure to refrain from taking vacation time.

The bottom line: the legal profession needs to change how it addresses mental health. And what better time to commit to improving wellness than on the tails of Lawyer Well-Being Week? Now is the perfect time for legal employers to resolve to take steps to change cutthroat law firm culture and provide support and resources for attorneys. Similarly, lawyers should proactively prioritize their mental health and work toward a higher level of wellness. 

If you’re not sure where to start, the Monroe County Bar Association offers a number of different wellness resources, including several confidential programs to help attorneys in need. For example, there’s the Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers Committee, which provides a safe environment for legal or judicial professionals suffering from alcohol or drug addiction and for family members concerned about their loved ones. There’s also a stress & anxiety virtual support group that meets monthly on the first Tuesday of every month at  5 p.m. Confidential counseling is also available Through the Tree of Hope. Finally, the incoming MCBA president, attorney Bradley Kammholz, will be focusing on relationships and wellness during his tenure, so there will undoubtedly be more wellness opportunities in the year to come.

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney, author, journalist, and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase  law practice management software for small law firms. She is the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a Thomson Reuters treatise. She writes legal technology columns for Above the Law and ABA Journal and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. You can follow her on Twitter at @nikiblack or email her at niki.black@mycase.com.