Section Review

The “80 Hour Week”

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 and injuries.

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 events;


Poor judgment;

Reduced capacity for communicating with others;

Reduced vigilance;

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, arrogance…"

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 pay off.

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 steps:

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 your operations.

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 direction.

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:

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