Book Review: ‘Law & Reorder: Legal Industry Solutions for Restructure, Retention, Promotion & Work/Life Balance’

by Jessica Brown on October 1, 2012

The American Bar Association (ABA) reported recently that law is the second-most sleep-deprived profession—second not to doctors, but to home health-care professionals. The ABA reported that home health aides sleep an average of six hours and fifty-seven minutes per night; lawyers sleep an average of seven hours—to which the popular legal blog Above the Law responded, “What the hell kind of lazy lawyer is getting seven entire hours of sleep every day?”

I laughed when I read that, because I had the same reaction. Seven hours of sleep per night sounds pretty cushy to me—and I’m a “reduced-hours” lawyer.

I also am an equity partner at Gibson Dunn, an international law firm founded in Los Angeles in 1891. I have been with the firm for seventeen-and-a half years, and a partner for ten-and-a-half of those years. For the last five-and-a-half years, since having my first child, I have worked a reduced-hours schedule.

Given my background as a “big-law” attorney trying to make reduced hours work, I was very interested to read Deborah Epstein Henry’s book, Law & Reorder: Legal Industry Solutions for Restructure, Retention, Promotion & Work/Life Balance.

by Deborah Epstein Henry
344 pp.; $29.95
ABA Publishing, 2010
321 North Clark St., Chicago, IL 60654-7598
(800) 285-2221; www.ababooks.org

Law & Reorder is directed at both legal employers, and lawyers and law students interested in work–life balance—two very different audiences. Henry anticipates the question, “Why not just write two different books?” and explains that topics relating to work–life balance are essential for employers to understand when building a profitable and productive profession. Likewise, lawyers cannot thrive, she says, without understanding their employers’ economic and managerial issues. Consequently, the book is divided into two parts, both of which, Henry posits, are required reading for both audiences.

Part 1, directed to employers, comprises ten chapters, including, “The Rise of New Models of Legal Practice” (Chapter 2) and “Why Work/Life Works: The Business Case” (Chapter 6). Fundamentally, this part is about why and how legal employers should restructure. A significant premise of Part 1 is that the billable-hour model no longer works. Thus, Law & Reorder strongly implies, the traditional law firm is destined to fail, and innovative models such as “the virtual law firm” and “blended professional services firms” will replace the traditional model.

Although I could be proven wrong (I recall being skeptical that people would buy clothes online), I question this premise. Clients are demanding discounts and alternative fee arrangements for certain types of matters, and I agree that law firms have to be flexible. However, I predict that the exceptions to the general rule of the billable hour will remain exceptions, and that major law firms will not abandon the billable-hour model in the next ten years. I do not believe that “[t]he legal profession as we have known it will no longer exist” by 2020.[1. Note. Notably, one of the law firms that Henry lauds as an “innovator” is Howrey LLP. Howrey, once a global law firm with more than 500 lawyers, went out of business in 2011. See, e.g., Pearlstein, “Why Howrey Law Firm Could Not Hold It Together, The Washington Post (March 19, 2011), available at www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/why-howrey-law-firm-could-not-hold-it-together/2011/03/16/ABNTqkx_story.html (noting that Howrey “ended lock-step raises for young associates, basing pay on competence rather than seniority” and that Howrey came to “rely increasingly on revenue from . . . contingency fee cases”). ]

Another major premise of Part 1, though, is that three large groups—working mothers, Generations X and Y, and Baby Boomers seeking to phase into retirement—are “clamoring for a more reasonable way of life and a different way to practice.” I do agree with that premise. As I reported at a balanced-hours program earlier this year, increased pressure to bill more hours has significantly increased many lawyers’ stress, while reducing the already small amount of time they have for their personal lives. A 2008 New York Times article reported that 44% of lawyers surveyed said they would not recommend to younger people a career in law; on average, law firms lose 20% of their associates each year; and about 20% of lawyers will suffer depression at some point in their careers, compared with just 6.7% of the total population. A recent study by NALP, the association of legal professionals, concluded that more than 70% of law-firm lawyers report having significant problems meeting their personal and health needs; handling family, parental, and household responsibilities; and finding time for cultural and leisure activities.

Thus, I agree that legal employers should focus on developing workplaces that permit lawyers a more reasonable way of life. Law & Reorder provides employers detailed information and creative ideas for doing so, most of which do not hinge on abolishing the billable hour. For example, in Chapter 5, Henry discusses family-friendly benefits employers should offer, various types of flexible arrangements employers should permit, and other means by which employers can become more hospitable to women. In Chapter 7, Henry describes how to improve the work environment for all lawyers, including by offering elder-care support and implementing phased retirement programs. In Chapter 8, she addresses common concerns relating to reduced-hour schedules and provides ten principles (I agree with all of them) for successful reduced-hour policies.

Part 2 of Law & Reorder, for lawyers and law students, also is packed with useful information for people who desire work–life balance. Henry talks about navigating parental leave in Chapter 12; she provides sixteen guidelines (I agree with these also) for successfully working reduced hours in Chapter 13; and she offers networking and business development advice for women in Chapter 17. She describes in Chapter 18 generational differences and how to overcome them, and includes a discussion of how women can more effectively support each other.

The topic Henry does not discuss is the difference between mentorship and sponsorship, and the importance for women especially of the latter. Otherwise, Law & Reorder is extremely comprehensive—and very valuable.

Law & Reorder is a bargain at $29.95. I recommend it to anyone seeking to learn more about how to achieve work–life balance within law firms, which I hope will be a wide and growing audience.

Jessica Brown is a partner with Gibson Dunn, where she practices in the areas of employment law and complex commercial litigation. She is a Colorado Women’s Bar Association board member and a member of the CBA Committee for Balanced Legal Careers—(303) 298 5944, jbrown@gibsondunn.com.

Reproduced by permission. ©2012 Colorado Bar Association, 41 The Colorado Lawyer 83 (October 2012). All rights reserved.

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