Can Wellness Finally End the Lawyer vs. Non-Lawyer Divide?

One of the most fascinating things I learned about law firms when I started working with them 15+ years ago is that it is the only industry I’ve ever come across the bifurcates it’s employees into two simple categories, “lawyer” and “non-lawyer”.

In no other profession that I’m aware does this happen. You don’t see “doctors and non-doctors”, “accountants and non-accountants” or even “baseball players and non-baseball players”. Now, many people who are more experienced – and smarter than I am can dive into the reason for this, but that’s actually not the point of this post.

Everywhere you look, employee wellness is taking center stage as companies begin to recognize and respond to the financial, recruitment, retention and cultural benefits of a well-rounded, healthy workforce and the statistics don’t lie. Half of millennials, and 75% of Gen-Zers have quit jobs for mental health reasons, and according to Law360’s Lawyer Satisfaction Survey, “42 percent of in-house counsels and 47 percent of associates say that in the next year they’re likely to look for a new job,” due to stress, burnout or other mental health reasons.

Put these facts together and you realize that overall wellness is as critical to the future of today’s law firm as it is to our society at large. If left ignored, law firms face the grim reality of employing an increasingly unwell, stressed and burned out workforce while also not being able to competitively recruit for future talent due to a lack of an attractive – and substantive – approach towards wellness. If you can’t retain and can’t recruit, then I don’t know how any business can survive.

So what does this have to do with “lawyer vs. non-lawyer” you might ask, in my opinion, everything. A big part of wellness in the workplace revolves around enjoying the company you work for and the colleagues you spend the majority of your waking hours with. As wellness becomes more dominant in how one evaluates their employment, part of that equation will ultimately include the concept of parity. If you are viewed as an unequal among your co-workers, what impact will that have on your mental health? What is the side effect of knowing that someone views you not as a marketer, IT professional or CFO, but as a non “one of them”? More than just perception, how can a firm prioritize a universal wellness initiative if in practice it’s employees are not viewed to all be in the same universe?

These questions will require more than just thought, it will require a larger culture change that for many firms, could take a generation – if not more. The real question is, for firms that do not embrace this change, can they last a generation if they are unable to retain or recruit talent? To answer that, we might need a psychic, or as they might prefer to be called, “non-presently focused”.

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