Building a Better Law Firm—The Idea Behind L&L
Legal work tends to be:
- Detrimental to mental and physical health—lawyers are 3.6x more likely to be depressed than non-lawyers
- Overly time intensive—77% of lawyers report working nights and weekends to stay caught up
- Low satisfaction—only half of lawyers report being satisfied with their work.
The end-result is stunning in terms of the rates of burnout, suicide, job dissatisfaction, mental health issues, and substance abuse. Worse, the culture of law firms tends to contribute to the problem:
- Working seven days a week and late into the night is rewarded, while taking more than a day or two off is viewed negatively
- More established attorneys feel entitled to treat those under them poorly
- Suspicion and distrust abound
- Whether new work will be rewarding or not is determined largely by reference to the income it will generate
- Outbursts of anger are frequent, often irrational, and nearly the only emotional expression seen in the office
- Large salaries and bonuses are treated as justifying and excusing all of the above
The culture of legal practice is too often toxic. Some of that is the stress coming out sideways and some of it is just baked into the culture. This is good neither for the attorneys, nor for the client. It’s a recipe for mediocre work product and an often miserable work life.
1. Keep overhead low
We pay for real estate, electricity, heat, and internet at our homes. We have coffee makers, cups, chairs, desks, printers, etc. at home. Why duplicate all of these costs?
2. Create passive revenue streams
We own real estate, but none of it is office space. It’s all residential spaces in places we want to be. We either share it with renters or put it on AirBnB/VRBO so it generates net positive revenue and we have free places to stay.
3. Fewer and higher quality cases/client
Each of us focuses on areas of law that interest us and spark our curiosity. The primary criterion for evaluating potential new work is whether we will enjoy doing it. The secondary consideration is how well it will pay relative to the amount of time and energy it will take. Keeping the work rewarding keeps motivation high and quality of work output high. Keeping case load minimal increases focus and reduces stress and mental fatigue.
4. Flexible work schedule and location
Sitting in an office for 8+ hours a day is not conducive to a good life. Period. Sitting at that desk when you’re not motivated or productive is a waste of time and leads to anxiety and guilt. Scheduling everything around work is logistically inefficient. Sitting at your desk reading the news for two hours because you aren’t motivated? Just go skiing, or run the errands you were going to do this weekend, or spend some time with your family so you don’t feel guilty when you have to work until 10pm to finish an emergency filing. Sitting for long periods in general is detrimental to your health. Get up, move around, stretch, meditate, go for a walk. Easier to do when you’re not trying to look and act like a highly professional and productive attorney for 8+ hours straight.
The pandemic gave us the opportunity to experience working remotely with a flexible schedule and we’re never going back. Humans are happier and our brains work better when we’re exposed to new and different places and experiences. We like to travel, we like to be outdoors. Technology has made it possible to not have to choose between work and travel adventures. We totally get the value of being in close contact with your co-workers, though, so we schedule time to meet up and work together—in Missoula, in Whitefish, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, in Mexico, in the deep woods in a large tent with a wood stove. And those are just the currently scheduled places for the first half of 2022. We’ve got skiing in Hokaido followed by the beach in Hawaii on the roster for late 2022 or early 2023. Scuba diving in Thailand is next after that.
5. Build a culture of mutual respect, empathy, and support
This can’t be overstated. We keep ourselves in good mental and emotional health, we live lives we love, we support each other through hard times, be patient with each other, normalize talking about emotions and mental issues, self-reflect, be open to feedback from others (not just about work performance, but about interpersonal relationships), and make sure everyone on our team knows we have their back no matter what and are looking out for their best interest. The golden rule is paramount here. No one wants to be blamed for something going wrong, especially when it was a group failure. No one wants to be mocked, denigrated, told they’re not important, or belittled.
Each of these goals creates positive feedback loops with the others:
-Fewer cases→less overhead→less need to take on work just to cover costs.
-Passive income through real estate investment→free lodging options that increases location flexibility + less need to take on cases solely to meet revenue requirements.
-Flexible work schedule and location + smaller, higher quality case load→less stress→more capacity for respect, empathy, and support.
-A culture of mutual respect, empathy, and support→more motivation→better work product→better reputation→better new work to choose from→greater capacity to operate on just a few, high quality cases.