When considering staying at a job, work-life balance, compensation, welcoming and collaborative workplaces, and remote work options top the list for today’s lawyers, according to a new nationwide survey from the American Bar Association.
Some key findings: 54% of women lawyers and 44% percent of all lawyers practicing 10 years or less would change jobs for the greater ability to work remotely; attorneys reported a high level of stress at work on account of their race, gender, sexual orientation, and disability status; and nearly half of all attorneys say better work-life balance and increased compensation are very or extremely important in deciding whether to change jobs. More than 65% of women and persons of color, specifically, said that work-life balance and increased compensation were very or extremely important.
The data is part of an ABA survey that looked at pandemic-triggered changes to how and where lawyers want to work. Nearly 2,000 ABA members responded to the survey from May 31 to June 15, 2022. It’s a follow up to the ABA’s fall 2020 survey that informed the report “Practicing Law in the Pandemic and Moving Forward,” which included perspectives from 4,200 ABA members.
Where are lawyers working post-pandemic?
Post-pandemic, the majority of lawyers are working at home at least part of the time but would be willing to go back into the office if pressed.
Over the past year, the vast majority of respondents said they spent at least one-quarter of the week working from home (70%). However, 75% of all respondents said they would be willing to “work in the office any time” if asked by their employer. When compared to men, women were less willing to provide this flexibility.
However, women and people of color said they were more concerned about the impact of not working in the office when asked. The most common concerns were that they wouldn’t be viewed as committed, that they would miss out on business development opportunities, or that they would be overlooked for meaningful assignments, which can all impact opportunities for promotion.
The majority of all respondents said that remote or hybrid work has not impacted (72%) or has increased (18%) their work quality, has not impacted (72%) or has increased (18%) work productivity, and has not impacted (46%) or has increased (33%) their amount of work hours.
Remote work has mixed effects on well-being and mental health
While working remotely has had positive effects on productivity, quality of work, and billable hours, some lawyers (23%) said working remotely increased their stress levels.
In a previous ABA survey, significant percentages of respondents said that feelings of missing seeing people at the office, feeling it is hard to keep home and work separate, and feeling disengaged from their firm or employer had increased over the first year of the pandemic.
Additionally, lawyers are concerned about relationship-building in a remote or hybrid work environment:
- 42% of lawyers reported an increase in feelings of social isolation
- 49% reported said the quality of their relationships with their co-workers decreased (men were more likely to report this than women)
- 61% reported a decrease in professional networking
However, even with the increased stress and relationship-building struggles that can come with remote or hybrid workplaces, most respondents reported no impact (40%) or an increase (47%) in their ability to balance work and family obligations; no impact (82%) or an increase (9%) in their ability to deal with biases at work; and no impact (57%) or an increase (27%) in the quality of their mental health.
Stressed because of who you are
Lawyers from traditionally underrepresented groups feel stress related to their identities more than lawyers who belong to majority groups, respondents said.
In fact, 48% of people with a disability said their disability caused them to feel stress at work, with 42% of females saying their gender caused the same. Significantly more people of color and LGBTQ people reported their race or ethnicity and sexual orientation, respectively, caused stress at work than white/Caucasian and heterosexual people.
In addition to feeling more work stress related to their identities, significant percentages of women, people of color, LGBTQ lawyers, and lawyers with disabilities also said they feel they can’t be their authentic selves at work and that they are perceived as less competent.
More than 15% of people in these traditionally underrepresented groups said they had experienced a demeaning or insulting comment at work related to their identity between January and June 2022. More than 5% of people in each of these groups said they had received those comments multiple times.
How organizations can better support lawyers
The ABA Coordinating Group on Practice Forward detailed how organizations can better support and retain lawyers, including:
- Create a culture that supports hybrid work. This includes creating a hybrid work policy that is intentional, transparent, and actively supported by leadership. The policy should promote engagement and connectivity, and the organization should determine metrics to track the policy’s effectiveness over time.
- Create a culture that addresses wellness and mental health. This includes providing holistic mental health resources, encouraging workdays with fewer meetings or taking time off, and making employees feel engaged and valued.
- Create a culture that encourages and fosters diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). This includes intentional and transparent DEI protocols in hiring, evaluations, compensation, promotion, leadership and sponsorship opportunities, and succession that are evaluated using metrics. Organizations should also consider offering compensation or billable hours for DEI work.
- Create a culture that maximizes the use of technology. Organizations should provide the equipment, cybersecurity measures, and project management tools needed to thrive in a remote or hybrid environment, keeping accessibility for lawyers with disabilities in mind.
For more on the ABA’s 2022 Practice Forward Report, click here.
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