Change is tough, especially for an industry rooted in precedent.

By Benjamin Greenzweig

For better or worse, the most commonly used metric for success at today’s law firm is profits per partner (PPP), but what if I told you that there was a mechanism to increase this number with little – if any investment required?

To understand where we’re coming from, let’s first look to Microsoft and SAP, two long established, massively successful tech giants who have long recognized that a “mentally healthy” workforce is a more product workforce. At SAP alone, “depression causes an average of 40 days of absenteeism per sufferer” according to a recent report from Reuters. In the law firm environment, few might contend that this number is lower, especially given the well documented cases of depression, anxiety, addiction, divorce and suicide. Let’s assume for a minute that an average attorney is similar to an average SAP employee and experiences 40 days of absenteeism. It doesn’t take an advanced algorithm to calculate what the potential impact this can have on PPP. 

If you have responsibility for, or involvement with wellness at your firm, you’re probably waiting for the catch, as after all, we opened this email with a statement about little to investment. To provide the answer, let’s dive deeper into the word of Microsoft and SAP. 

To quote Paul Torsten, SAP’s director digital health & well-being, “At SAP, (considered a thought leader on employee mental health)…it starts with prevention and destigmatization.” The Reuters piece continues by saying, “But experts say a culture shift toward openness, from the C-suite on down, is most effective. That translates to peer counseling, colleagues sharing their experiences and open dialogue.”

What I’ve described so far is nothing more than a culture shift, a position of openness, acceptance and dialogue, and while there are some amazing tools and services that can support a high performing wellness initiative, what’s been outlined above costs $0. Here are two more relatively simple examples of what SAP does to drive employee wellness:

  • They provide a two-day immersive mindfulness program
  • They share video testimonials on its intranet from colleagues who have overcome challenges

Switching gears to Microsoft, this blue chip behemoth takes an even more direct approach towards mental health. Earlier this year, Microsoft hosted several movie screenings about suicide and anxiety, and followed up each showing with conversations by those who volunteered to tell their stories. Imagine a movie premier with the stars followed by a Q&A, but instead of celebrities, it’s real people telling real stories, connecting with the audience, with counselors standing by.

This is just another example of a low to zero cost investment that law firms can make today into the health and wellness of their employees. While there are some great (and some not so great) technology solutions, creating a true wellness program is a mindset, a culture shift that requires more of a commitment from leadership than capital. Unfortunately the greatest barrier to adopting this mindset inside today’s law firm remains, in my opinion, the stigma associated with mental health and general recalcitrance of the law firm environment, there are many trailblazers and for the firm that “flips this switch” first, a tremendous competitive advantage awaits.

While PPP will remain the key driver for law firms, adopting a culture that is not only tolerant, but supportive of mental health and wellness can directly – and indirectly – increase it, from productivity to retention, recruitment to job satisfaction.