Is Partner Compensation Hurting Mental Health?

Generative AI: How It’s Changing the Legal Profession
June 7, 2024
Generative AI: How It’s Changing the Legal Profession
June 7, 2024
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Is Partner Compensation Hurting Mental Health?

What You Need to Know

Partner compensation systems that overemphasize competition and profit are hurting lawyers’ mental health, the American Lawyer’s 2024 Mental Health Survey found, which fielded anonymous responses from more than 2,000 law firm attorneys and over 400 legal staff. 

Survey Responses of Note

  1. “Non-partner attorneys and staff work in the business of making lemonade and we’re the lemons—we get squeezed until there isn’t any more juice to squeeze out of us. When we’re used up, there’s another batch of lemons coming in,” one lawyer stated.
  2. “Eat what you kill means you have no leeway to stop killing—no matter how bad you feel,” the lawyer wrote. Another attorney recognized law firm management and compensation structures are the primary things that need to change to improve mental health in Biglaw. 
  3. “Stop the bullshit programs that advocate for mental health but do nothing to address the problem: work demands and terrible partner management,” one attorney concluded.

Survey Conclusion

Based on survey responses, it is evident that placing firm success far above attorney well-being is outdated and needs to change. 

Unfortunately, many attorneys surveyed responded that they had “little hope for changing the eat-what-you-kill compensation model any time in the near future.” Instead, they suggested shifting focus on “making partners better managers as well as altering partner compensation systems to factor partners’ treatment of their colleagues into their pay.” 

The challenge now is determining how to alter such long-established dynamics in the law profession to include mental health awareness.

What Change Could Look Like

One idea would be a “360-degree feedback” for partners, asking associates and staff to weigh in on partners’ performance, as well as law firm management. Things like annual reviews will allow lawyers to feel heard by partners and influence positive change. Some attorneys who responded to the survey thought that partner compensation ought to include things like mentorship and teamwork while at the same time putting less emphasis on billable hours.

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External Links: Zaretsky, 2024