happy attorney at work

I am the founder and managing partner of the largest divorce and family law firm in New Jersey. In safeguarding our clients and their children, the work our attorneys engage in is both intimate and personal. Adultery and betrayal? Custody battles? Domestic abuse that has tragically gone on for years? Support disputes? Clashes over assets? Constant worries about the future? 

Our attorneys see it all, and they give their all to every client. Since we first opened our doors a decade ago, our firm has been lucky in attracting the top talent in the state. This all-star team has been instrumental in our firm’s success and growth, from two attorneys sharing a single office to currently six offices serving clients throughout New Jersey. Our team is united in our high standards. But these standards could also place us at higher risk for burnout.  

So that is why, in the midst of our rapid expansion and continued success in advocating for our clients, we realized that our wonderful law firm would be difficult to sustain if we failed to recognize the possibility of burnout or viewed it as an individual attorney’s concern. It was clear that we needed to take action to give our entire team the tools they needed to feel supported and nurtured in their work/life balance and career goals. 

By carefully listening to our attorneys, we realized that the solution to future-proofing against burnout wouldn’t be easy. There is no quick fix. It would require something major: a total overhaul of the traditional law firm model. 

From the list of potential burnout triggers identified by our attorneys and external consultants, we zeroed in on four key changes that could shift our culture and prioritize attorney happiness and career contentment. Here is what we did to change our paradigm — and what the results were.

Differentiated leadership roles: To match attorneys’ strengths and career goals, we revised our partnership structure to include three different types of leadership roles: Managing Partner, Operational Partner and Lead Partner. We value the diverse strengths and skill sets our attorneys bring to our firm. Some attorneys are great at team building and management, others have extreme savvy with behind the scenes operations, and still others are born networkers. In pursuing partnership at the firm, we didn’t want our crop of budding leaders to feel like they had to change the very things that made them so special.

In our new paradigm, attorneys with the goal of making partner are now invited to think about which role is their best match. Since implementing this structure, five attorneys have been made partner. They are energized by their newfound ability to tap into their talents and be themselves. It’s the opposite of burnout!  

Respect for different career paths: Something else that surfaced during our partnership restructure was the message from some attorneys that being made partner was not a priority for them at this time and place in their career. These attorneys prefer to focus on developing their own practice and do not want to feel pressure to jump on the “partner track.” We respect this and established a pathway and financial incentive structure for all attorneys based on their own benchmarks for their career. Our message to our attorneys is clear: No matter what your goals, you have unlimited potential with our firm

Happiness cultivation (work/life balance) that isn’t just lip service: Whether it’s raising kids, volunteering at a non-profit, or training for a marathon, we knew we had to find a way for attorneys to feel more supported in creating work/life balance that keeps them feeling motivated and fulfilled. To make this happen, we brought in an expert. Attorneys at our firm now have the unique benefit of working with an “Employee Happiness Cultivator” to create a specific roadmap for work/life balance that meets whatever needs the attorney may have. Our Happiness Cultivator’s extensive background in organizational management and personal development is an amazing resource for helping each individual team member to find the structure, support and mentoring they need to make their vision for work/life balance a reality. 

Enhanced Support for Career Development: To help attorneys stay ahead of the curve on frequent changes in New Jersey family law and best practices, we enhanced support for attorneys to participate in Continued Legal Education (CLE) opportunities that align with their career goals. 

Our attorneys deserve every opportunity possible to grow in their mastery of family law and skills as a lawyer. Going deeper and exploring new horizons keep the profession fresh and invigorating, so we make the career development process as seamless as possible. As one attorney recently summed up: “If I need a resource, I get it. Need mentoring — done. Need research assistance — got it. CLE on a specific topic — registered. Want help with professional networking — scheduled.” 

It is this ease that we are committed to infusing throughout our workplace culture. Our attorneys work so hard and put so much energy into safeguarding our clients. How we function as a law firm should always prioritize our attorneys’ well-being. We want to be a source of fuel for our attorneys, not fuel consumption. These four changes have certainly helped, and we will continue to evolve our practices in response to attorney needs, ensuring that we future-proof them against burnout and truly place them in a position to thrive.