Wellness as the Law Firm Competitive Advantage: Part 2

Just the other day, Above the Law published an article about the results of a 2017 mental health survey at Harvard Law School that revealed “high rates of mental health issues at the elite school”, including:

  • 60 percent of respondents reported signs of depression
  • Over 50 percent of respondent reported signs of anxiety

As one of the most respected, and statistically most successful proving grounds for lawyers in the world, perhaps no school is more representative of the needs and wants of the partners and practice leaders of tomorrow than Harvard Law School and that makes this study, and potential conclusions, seismic in the scope of its impact on the future of work.

While earnings and opportunity have consistently been considered top motivators by law school graduates when deciding which law firm to apply to, it is getting harder to ignore the growing impact of mental health and wellness on one’s career decision. This is a trend that transverses professions and generations as demonstrated by a CNBC report from this past October that said “Half of millennials and 75% of Gen Zers have left their job for mental health reasons.”

Combine the Harvard Law School stats with these broader, cultural trends, add in a big heaping dose of the sobering macro trends around mental health, suicide and addiction rates, and you cannot ignore that the face and demands of the future workforce must – and will change. Leading Fortune 500 companies like Microsoft, Google and SAP have invested tremendous resources into their employee wellness programs, and, as Reuters wrote in November, “Culture change is the cutting edge of mental health benefits at work.”

So where does this leave law firms? To provide you with this answer, let me share an anecdote from a call I had a few months ago while researching the development of my Employee Wellness Summit for Law Firms and Professional Services taking place February 27-28, 2020 in Ft. Lauderdale.

I was on the phone with a good friend of mine who is a member of senior leadership at a well known law firm. Amy, (not her real name) told me that while she personally takes employee wellness very seriously, she is struggling to convince her fellow leaders to do the same. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” might as well be the mantra of most law firms, right?

“We just created a head of diversity, how many of these positions do we actually need?”

Amy proceeded to tell me that during one of her committee meeting on employee wellness, (they did sign the ABA Pledge on Well-Being) the question was raised on whether or not the firm had an interest to create a director of head of wellness? One of the partners quickly responded, “We just created a head of diversity, how many of these positions do we actually need?” Suffice it to say, this firm will not be recruiting for any wellness position in the short term. Tell me, how will a future Harvard Law, Stanford Law or Hofstra Law grad react to this type of culture when choosing between several, or dozens of law firms to apply to?

The bigger conflict this issue raises is that law firms are once again stuck between where society is going and where they want to go. Fifteen years ago if you told the average law firm that their commitment – and actions – on diversity would influence their ability to win business, you would’ve been laughed all the way to The People’s Court. Alas, today, diversity is a competitive differentiator and all the RFPs I’ve ever seen have diversity requirement sections.

When will employee wellness become the next requirement?

The ABA Pledge on Well-Being is signed by several corporate legal departments so it might not take as long as one would think. That being said, change is slow in the legal industry, but the real question is more of “when” than the “if”. The trends, stats and demands of the future workforce are too strong and loud for health and wellness to not be taken seriously, just look at the data points from the Harvard Law School study.

If you think that future law school graduates and laterals will overwhelmingly choose compensation as the main reason for selecting an employer, then you are flying in the face of macro trends, however, you might not be wrong. But let me ask which bet are you willing to make; that your future talent will choose compensation alone when deciding which firm to work for, or that some type of wellness program, mindset or culture can influence their decision? The choice – and future of your firm – is yours.

See what some of the most progressive, forward thinking law firms and professional services organizations are doing about their wellness strategy at Momentum’s Employee Wellness Summit for Law Firms and Professional Services, taking place February 27-28 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

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