Two very important new articles on psychology and law firm management

My partner, Lisa M. Walker Johnson, has recently written two articles applying counseling psychology to two important challenges to law firm management.

Until Death...or Retirement: Thinking Differently About the End of a Law Firm Career

This is a pioneering consideration of how a trend toward longer law firm careers, combined with the probability of greatly extended life expectancy over the next 15 to 20 years, will make law firm partners who are in the 80s and 90s - and even in their 100s - a relatively common phenomenon, rather than the rare exception today.

Not everyone will want to retire at age 65 for another 40-60 years of golf or fishing.

To put the question plainly:  How will law firms manage the desires of the 100-year-old partner who is healthy, mental fit, and wanting to continue to contribute to the firm?

This scenario is not another one of those "fertile octagenarian" puzzles that we common-law lawyers debated in our real property classes in law school.   It is a real, highly probable prospect.

Lisa also explores some of the psychological and economic obstacles to "letting go" of one's career and moving gracefully into retirement or a second career at the traditional retirement age of 60 to 65. She concludes by offering a series of practical recommendations to manage what is likely to become a later and more prolonged transition with better results for the individuals and their firms.

Strategic planning in law firms must begin to take into account both the opportunities and the practical and financial challenges that Lisa's article presents.

Protecting the Most Valuable Asset:  The Business Case for Mental Health Alertness and Action in Law Firms

Lisa Walker Johnson co-authored this paper with British psychologist Robert Sharpe; and it was the basis for their presentation at the annual conference of the International Bar Association on 7 October 2010. Lisa and Robert investigate the terrible measurable costs associated with mental health issues in law firms, especially among partners. They also evaluate the possible responses that law firms can take to get help and avoid human tragedy, as well as irreparable financial harm.

Consider these data points compiled by Joseph Weiler and Arun Mohan in A Canada-United States Comparative Analysis of Workplace Wellness Programs:  The New Frontier of Human Resource and Management Law Reform (note 1):

  • Lawyers as a group are twice as likely to commit suicide as the general public.
  • Of 105 professions studied, lawyers have the highest incidence of major depression - at a rate four times the average.
  • 15-18% of lawyers in the United States are problem drinkers, compared to 9% of the U.S. adult population.
  • The rate of alcoholism among lawyers is twice that of the general public.
  • 70% of all lawyers will have an alcohol problem in their careers.
  • A two-year study of death claims identified suicide as the third leading cause of death, behind cancer and cardiac illness.

The problems are real, but many law firms continue to deny that mental health is anything more than a personal problem.  As a result they ignore or dismiss the signs of an impending mental health crisis; or, when they recognize that a problem exists, their well-intentioned efforts to help are often inept and can sometimes even make things worse.

Lisa and Robert's article is a loud and clear call to greater awareness and action in law firms worldwide.

Read more on the Walker Clark Worldview Blog.