The economic forecasts seem to agree: we’re in a recession. Unlike past slowdowns, this recession seems poised to affect law firms as much as other businesses — not a pleasant thought for lawyers accustomed to growth and more growth. If you’re among those concerned (and if you aren’t, you probably should be), be sure to visit Gerry Riskin’s Amazing Firms, Amazing Practices. He sounded the economic warning bell early, and he’s providing consistently useful ideas on how to survive the tight times and be prepared to accelerate when the economy improves.
What about lawyers’ efforts to integrate work and life? Does that go by the wayside in the event of recession? Should it?
I’ve talked recently with more than a handful of lawyers who are feeling the pinch, and with associates who are sensing or even being told flat-out that they should count themselves lucky just to have jobs, to put their heads down (subtext: quit complaining) and get to work. Especially in the firms that have just raised associate salaries to levels previously unknown, it isn’t surprising that they might get such feedback.
And yet, the shut-up-and-work mentality flies in the face of efforts to help lawyers shore up declining professional satisfaction. Work/life balance or integration continues to be an important issue for many lawyers, but how to manage those concerns when times get tight?
Cali Williams Yost, creator of the apt “work+life fit” concept, has posted some thoughts about why smart leaders will continue to integrate flexibility. The short version, according to Cali:
* Even in a recession, talent will still be a scarce commodity.
* You can’t effectively service global clients and manage global teams without flexibility that considers impact on work+life fit.
* In a recession, more needs to be done with fewer resources.
* Finally, companies that need to cut back will use flex to creatively downsize.
I think she has some excellent points. My concern is that between the anger that some law firm leaders feel concerning the escalated associate salaries and the remaining somewhat rigid view that law firms sometimes have on flex time and work/life balance (to use the phrase that firms tend to use), firms may be less willing to use flexibility as a management tool.
The word is already out about some firms firing associates for “poor performance” without any warning signs. Other firms are openly laying off associates and poor-performing non-equity partners and/or de-equitizing partners. As much as I’d like to believe that firms will adopt flexibility in greater numbers despite the tight economy, I find it hard to believe.
What do you think?