How Important is Happiness Anyway?

How quantifiable is happiness? It’s a question many law firm leaders may be struggling with as they seek to improve the humor of their ranks, amid feelings that a summer of discontent may be settling on the UK

The ‘post-pandemic’ glow appears to have worn off, as we’re all now used to meeting in person sometimes now and the frisson of a face-to-face lunch isn’t quite what it once was. Meanwhile the train strikes have done nothing to improve the City’s spirits – though perhaps some lawyers will have been secretly glad to be able to find a legitimate excuse to avoid the office this week.

Simmons & Simmons research this week into how happy law firms’ people are was well-timed, then, and some might raise eyebrows at its findings. Apparently, millennials are much happier than popular discourse would have you believe – over 80% are happy in their jobs and 83% are satisfied with their work-life balance.

In fact the report, which surveyed over 1,600 lawyers and staff at firms across the globe, found those aged 45-54 tend to be unhappier, with around 30% of the group saying they are not happy in their jobs, and the same percentage are not satisfied with their work-life balance.

How should firms respond to such numbers? Perhaps they might consider taking a leaf out of Slaughter and May’s first managing partner Deborah Finkler’s book, and consider requesting a furry friend in the office to lift their spirits. Finkler wholeheartedly backed the notion of a “Bring Your Dog to Work Day” in the London office of Slaughters, which is taking place todaymuch to the consternation of many on social media, who felt such a storied institution should be above such things.

While bringing your dog to work might not be a replacement for sound mental health support, an understanding manager and realistic boundaries to maintain a healthy work-life balance, it’s another example of law firms opening up to the possibilities of shaking off old-fashioned stereotypes to aid their peoples’ view of the workplace.

A proponent of such shake ups is Clare Wardle, Coca Cola’s Europacific Partners general counsel and company secretary. Speaking about the importance of pro-bono at the Commercial Litigation Forum’s pro bono event at the Royal Courts of Justice on Wednesday, she said: “I think lawyers need to think carefully about how much work is being piled on. I’m a great believer in that you cannot work more than 10 hours a day on a regular basis and still be good at what you do. ” She added that it is crucial to “give life meaning” and to “let lawyers do more than just slave over files”.

Several law firms have attempted to encourage their lawyers to take on pro-bono work in recent years by allowing them to count it towards their billable hours.

Every little helps, after all, and law firms will have to continue to throw more creative solutions at making work a positive experience in order to hold onto their talent, because the issue of retention won’t be going away any time soon. The Simmons research revealed that only 2% of those surveyed expect to be at their current firm in a decade’s time, and 44% expect to leave their current firm within five years.

The state of London’s hiring market reflected that once again this week, with several moves occurring at lateral partner level. Goodwin Procter added a regulatory partner from Macfarlanes, a firm not known for losing many partners; Reed Smith hired BCLP’s derivatives head; and Sidley Austin plucked a Proskauer Rose private equity partner.

Happiness may not be easy to measure, but there are lots of numbers to show discontentment, one of which is staff churn. With moves at all levels are becoming so commonplace it feels as if firms are going to have to start considering more radical ideas if they want to improve their retention.

Perhaps this is why Deborah Finkler’s morale-boosting day could prove so valuable. The idea may not be new, but it is new for Slaughters, which is what really matters. As long as the day of dogs doesn’t end with a savaging, more firms might want to consider doing the same.

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