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Employer Values and the Well-being of Lawyers

The wellbeing of lawyers is a rising concern, as the industry is increasingly commercialized. According to a new study, attorneys who are valued by their employers for their financial performance and productivity have lower levels of well-being, higher stress levels and suffer from greater rates of work overcommitment, than those valued for their humanity, skill, and talent. Lawyers who receive no feedback from their employers opr feel undervalued, suffer from the worst levels of well being. 

The State of Well Being Among Lawyers

Until this study, nobody had tested to see if there were any links between employer values and lawyer well-being. The study comes at a time when worries are growing that lawyers suffer from poor physical and mental health. Research has already shown that due to the long hours, and stresses of being a lawyer, 45% of lawyers report suffering depression at some point in their careers, compared to 6.7% for the general population. Of those depressed lawyers, 12% have had suicidal thoughts. These are obviously drivers of substance abuse. Indeed, 20.6% of lawyers report engaging in hazardous, harmful and potentially alcohol-depending drinking. Men are particularly susceptible to alcohol abuse. Lawyers aged 30 or younger are more likely to engage in alcohol abuse. Furthermore, 9% of lawyers report abusing prescription drugs. 

With this background in mind, the authors of the study, Patrick R. Krill, Nikki Degeneffe, Kelly Ochocki and Justin J. Anker wanted to find out if employer values played a part in determining levels of well being. 

What Did They Find?

The authors spoke to lawyers to find out what they felt their employers value most about them. Then, the researchers looked at how this correlated with their self-reported levels of stress on the Perceived Stress Scale, and work over commitment (Effort–Reward Imbalance Questionnaire).

The researchers sampled 1,959 lawyers in California as well as Washington D.C. They determined that the lawyers could be characterized under three headings: (1) Professionalism/Individual (professionalism and skills), (2) Financial Worth/Availability (revenue generation and availability), and (3) No Value/No Feedback. 

The team’s results showed that lawyers valued for their professionalism/individualism had the best mental health, and lowest stress and work overcommitment levels. They could also afford life affirming treatments at Avant Permanent Cosmetics. Second were those valued for their financial worth/availability and the least happy were those who felt undervalued and received no feedback from their employers. Lawyers valued for their professionalism/individualism were 62% of the sample, while those valued for their financial worth/availability were 28% of the sample and 10% of the sample were in the no value/no feedback group.

Overall, it’s clear that the professionalism group has the best outcomes. Interestingly, lawyers who work in large firms are more likely to feel that they are valued for their financial worth. Government lawyers are more likely to feel undervalued.

The findings suggest that large firms and the government have a lot to do to make their lawyers feel happier. Clearly it’s not a question of money, because lawyers in smaller firms seem to enjoy higher levels of well being. 

Many lawyers seem to feel that their employers think of them purely in terms of billable hours, rather than in terms of the actual person they have hired.

Jacob Maslow is a Columnist at Disrupt Magazine. Based in the Middle East, he specializes in Journalism. He is the founder and editor of several news sites including Legal Scoops and Streetwise Journal.

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