Do firms benefit from attorneys
working "60-80 hour weeks"?
Clearly, there are some times when
long hours are necessary. Submitting a suit in a timely manner and
respecting a judge's deadlines are essential for a successful
practice. But what happens to the business life of a firm when such
weeks are the rule rather than the exception?
According to the Project for
Attorney Retention (6/12/01), "Typical work weeks of sixty hours or
more are driving attorneys out of law firms.""Speed living"
attorneys may succeed in the short run, but doing so for long
periods can have negative consequences.
Studies show that fatigue reduces
performance and productivity, and increases the risk of accidents
Performance levels drop as work
periods become longer and sleep loss increases. Staying awake for
17 hours has the same effect on performance as a blood alcohol
content of 0.05%. Staying awake for 21 hours is equivalent to a
blood alcohol content of 0.1%.
The most common effects associated
with fatigue are:
Lack of concentration;
Impaired recollection of timing and
Reduced capacity for communicating
Reduced capacity to judge risk;
performance declines by 25 percent
after a 60-hour work week….
Stated bluntly, excess work hours
put in by already overtaxed employees are of negative value to an
organization when viewed in the context of overall work
performance, direct healthcare costs, and productivity lost to
absenteeism and general lethargy on the job.
So why do it?
In "How Hard Do You Work," Jim
Calloway offers the logical answer to this question:
It increases business income. You
make more money. …Working long days, nights and weekends generates
income with almost no increase of overhead. It is rare you will
find a lawyer who is very successful financially and does not
regularly put in long hours.
A firm might say this is simply the
price of making money but according to Clark D. Cunningham of
Georgia State University College of Law, "In 2005, 7 out of 10
corporations are so unsatisfied with their primary law firms that
they would not recommend the firm to others. Among the primary
complaints: "21% Failure to keep client adequately informed" and
"15% Lack of client focus: failure to listen, non-responsiveness,
None of the effects of fatigue make
good impressions on clients depending on their attorney for
competence if not excellence.
The "80-hour week" simply does not
If you can't get away from the
office, then recognize that you may need help to keep long-hour
weeks to a minimum. Make 2009 the year to balance the demand on
your time with the time of your life by taking the following
Reduce waste and disorganization
Consider using a time trainer to
increase efficiency and reduce your work day; one attorney went
from 12 hours to 9 hours with no loss of income.
Carefully assess new assignments
before taking them on, especially from new clients.
Recognize that 80% of the results
come from 20% of your effort. Cut down on the least profitable 80%
and expand the 20% that pays off the most.
Improve your planning and know your
priorities to prevent wasting time on unimportant matters - don't
be the athlete who runs to the start of a marathon from 10 miles
away, already tired before tackling important tasks.
Become tech savvy and streamline
From programs that can turn speech
into print to electronic systems for organizing files, there are a
myriad of resources that can help. The Law Practice Management
Section has many programs and tips that can guide you in the right
Fatigue affects the ability to think clearly. Tired people
cannot gauge their own level of impairment, and are unaware that
they are not functioning as well or as safely as they might.The
Complete Idiot's Guide to Time Management, stress expert Cary
Cooper found that: