We live in a society where meritocracy is rewarded, both financially and emotionally. How to be more “productive” has become an obsession for many. Productivity and profitability go hand in hand with enormous profits for those who succeed. Law firms have not escaped this phenomenon; in fact, they have fully embraced it. Sociologists now refer to law, accounting and consulting as the “greedy professions,” in which more productivity (meaning more billable hours) means significantly greater profits.
At JW, we specifically and intentionally refuse to embrace this philosophy for a number of reasons. First – and most importantly – we care about our employees, and not just about maximizing shareholder income. We believe that living a balanced life is best for our employees, their families and our community. It is our purpose. While definitions of a balanced life vary, most would agree it means more than just billable hours. It means having the flexibility to spend meaningful time with one’s family and friends and investing in one’s community.
We strongly believe that this increases productivity in tangible and intangible ways. Attorneys who lead a balanced life – as they define it – experience lower turnover, less burnout and an improved work product. A compensation system not built around maximizing billable hours results in lower bills for our clients, more repeat business and more word-of-mouth referrals. The economics of law are such that our attorneys can be compensated fairly, and the firm can be profitable, even though we decline to follow the herd.
For years, the term “mommy track” has been used for professionals who choose to balance work with family commitments. It was a position that was viewed as “off the track” by most law firms, and meant significantly lowered or completely blocked advancement to partnership or shareholder status. If an attorney was “off track”, and working at an “up or out” law firm, the likely outcome was unemployment.
This is not how our firm works. My Track is gender neutral, flexible, not a career derailment, and open to all of our attorneys. We let our attorneys decide how they want to define their balance of life choices. Each year our attorneys develop a Personal Performance Plan. Many attorneys have chosen to devote less time to their career and more time to other priorities in any given year. Sometimes this is motivated by children, aging parents, a health challenge, a passion project, or just having different priorities that year. This does not put them “off the track”, unless that is their choice. At JW, even being off the track is an acceptable decision that our attorneys can make.
We not only think this is good business, but also know that it is the right thing to do for the people we care about. We are authentically making a difference for our clients, our employees and our community.
About the author: Gary Jaburg is the managing partner of the Phoenix law firm of Jaburg Wilk. He assists clients with business matters, employment issues, workouts of financial issues and business divorce.