JLU: Junior Lawyers' Union

Asserting the rights of junior lawyers, who have much more power than they realise.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Profits and work/life balance not incompatible

BP is a company that makes a profit of over one million pounds per hour.

You'd imagine, then, that such a profitable company, mindful of its responsibility to its shareholders, would have achieved this sort of success by squeezing every ounce of "productivity" out of its employees.

It is not unusual, after all, for emails containing an exhortation to lawyers to "Bill, bill, bill!" to be circulated around certain large law firms by certain Managing Partners. Last Friday, for example, at one large national law firm, a JLU member reported receiving no fewer than thirteen emails reminding him to enter as much time as possible into Keystone in order to ensure as much money as possible was charged to clients prior to the end of the financial year. This, coincidentally, was the very same law firm that had, only two days earlier, failed to increase the salary bands of its junior lawyers.

It would seem a fairly obvious equation: the more time firms can make their lawyers work, the more time is billed to the client and the more money the firms - and, by extrapolation, the partners - make. It therefore comes as somewhat of a shock to discover that BP makes over a million pounds an hour by strictly enforcing a policy of work/life balance among its employees, insisting, in an internal BP policy document leaked to the JLU, that employees:
  • "make quality time for family and friends";
  • "leave work at a reasonable time regularly";
  • "keep Saturday and Sunday as work free days";
  • "work from home periodically";
  • "take some time off in lieu and spend it with your family" if "you work long hours on a project or task"; and even
  • "leave work at 4pm on children and partner's birthdays".
Attached to this statement of suggestions for ensuring work/life balance is a "Home / Work / Life Personal Assessment". This questionnaire rates employees' work/life balance and imposes penalty points for such behaviour as weekend work, being in the office after 6pm and eating lunch in the office.

If a company such as BP, which boasts the second-best bottom line in the world, can get serious on its employees' work/life balance, why can't the law firms which service it?


Blogger Legal Eagle said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

07 July, 2006 14:47  
Blogger Legal Eagle said...

Hmm, sorry 'bout that - was trying to make a comment and only half of it went up, so I had to delete it.

Anyway, what I wanted to say was that I agree that productivity could be improved by having a proper work life balance.

When you are exhausted and stressed everything takes twice as long, and you are much more likely to make a mistake. You don't enjoy your work, and you feel resentment towards your workplace.

At least for me, it's so much easier to do good work if I feel appreciated and if I feel like like my needs are being taken into consideration.

It's not just law firms which have a problem - it's also about workplace culture these days. I have noticed that various friends (a scientist, a social worker, a teacher) have all said that work expects them to put in tremendous hours for no reward...the reward is just keeping your job.

However, I think billing exacerbates this culture in law firms, and breeds a really bad mentality into law firms. More time = More money. Therefore everyone is encouraged to maximise their time, and personal life be damned.

Perhaps all these law firms/companies/schools/hospitals/labs should pay overtime for the extra hours their employees work?

A 2002 study established that half of all Australians in full time employment do unpaid overtime, and the majority do not get any recognition for the unpaid overtime.

It's a bad state of affairs.

07 July, 2006 15:01  
Blogger Shop Steward said...

Comrade, you have hit the nail on the head. Or several nails on several heads.

Australians have a reputation for a laid back and relaxed attitude to work but, in actual fact, when compared to worldwide standards, we work longer and harder than almost anyone in any country.

The Age, for example, citing an OECD study, surmises that "Australians work an average of 1855 hours a year, compared with 1643 for other developed nations".

Whether or not this has a productivity benefit (something the JLU disputes), one must wonder what all this time at work and away from families, friends and relaxation/leisure time does to the social fabric of our society.

09 July, 2006 12:41  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is this blog just an excuse for a love-in for the both of you?

14 August, 2006 12:56  
Blogger Shop Steward said...

Not exclusively. Feel free to add something of value.

14 August, 2006 13:00  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why should I be the first to post something of value on this blog?

14 August, 2006 13:08  
Blogger Shop Steward said...

Our comrade here must be a law firm partner.

14 August, 2006 13:23  

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