It’s no secret that leaders of law firms across the country will face many challenges in 2020. Regina Pisa, a Goodwin partner, addressed a group of managing partners recently and discussed technological changes, employee retention, the consolidation of the industry. She stressed mental health as one of the more difficult challenges to be faced in the coming year.
The Citizens Financial Group asked Pisa to be the keynote speaker at their annual luncheon for managing partners. The chairman emeritus has a great track record when it comes to running a successful firm both financially and legally. She was a key player in the transformation of Goodwin from a regional firm into a global player.
During her address, Pisa touched on a few topics that have impacted the industry in past years. She talked about a 2016 study that uncovered how lawyers have a higher likelihood of abusing alcohol and suffering from mental issues than many other professionals. Pisa commented that attorneys are typically more pessimistic and cynical than the overall population. She also took some time to read an open letter that was widely shared last year. It was written by Sidley Austin who ended up killing himself due to the job’s unabating stress, according to ot his wife.
Pisa talked about how the industry’s expectations that lawyers are working 24-7 is one of the reasons why lawyers sometimes experience such high stress levels. Technology was another major factor she cited. Pisa even used to keep her phone or tablet next to her bed to send emails in the middle of the night.
Pisa cautioned the audience against placing an inordinate amount of blame on billable-hours as the culprit. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court released a report recommending that firms don’t place targets above 1,800 billable hours each year. Unfortunately, many of the highest-grossing firms in the country exceed.
Pisa said that the billable-hour goals aren’t the main source of the exhaustion and stress felt throughout the industry. Instead, she talked about technology and the distraction caused by it as one of the main sources. She said that the constant presence of social media and email makes it harder to get work done in a quick manner.
At the same time, Pisa warned about firms giving their employees too much flexibility for working remotely. While this is normally seen as a great way to achieve a desirable work-life balance, Pisa says that the decreased face-to-face contact that lawyers have with colleagues is a negative result. She even said that this could be contributing to a decrease in civility within the industry.
Although the problems seem severe, Pisa remains optimistic. Since the issues have risen to the surface, the industry is in a better position to make positive and necessary changes. She also left the audience with some helpful tips including caring about the mental health of coworkers, prioritizing self-care, talking about life outside of work, and more.
She spoke specifically about millennials as the cohort that could make major changes when it comes to mental health. As the chair for Goodwin, Pisa saw many millennials walk into the office and talk about their expectations without hesitation. The candid conversations initially took Pisa by surprise, although she eventually came to enjoy them. Pisa said that the millennials are willing to stay as long as there’s some negotiation about what each party expects.