Sunday, November 22, 2015

What is the impact of longer hours on lawyer satisfaction?

Every lawyer, law professor, law student, and legal commentator has an opinion on this question. Today we can test our views against actual data. 

IndianaLawyerThis fall, Lawyer Metrics was given the opportunity to analyze survey data supplied to us from by The Indiana Lawyer, the paper of record for the Indiana legal profession.  The sample included 516 respondents drawn from the paper's readership.  My colleague at Lawyer Metrics, Evan Parker, sliced and diced the data in a way the gave us some useful insights into the hours/satisfaction question, at least for a broad swath of lawyers in one midwestern state.

Below is a graphic that shows the average level of satisfaction on various dimensions for Indiana lawyers working 60+ hours per week.  


After the jump are graphs showing averages for lawyers working fewer hours per week.  But before clicking on the hyperlink, answer this question: Are Indiana lawyers with more moderate schedules on average more satisfied or less satisfied than their 60+ hour counterparts? Also, be a good sport and write down your reason why.  

Below is the same dotplot that adds in the averages for lawyers working 51 to 60 hours per week:


The picture is pretty clear -- the 60+ hours group is reporting higher levels of satisfaction on all dimensions with the exception of "Work is Professionally Satisfying" and "Career Permits Life Outside Work." On those dimensions, the two groups are essentially the identical.  In the past, I have seen law firm data showing a significant positive correlation between hours worked (and hours billed) and professional satisfaction.  But I was surprised by the clarity of this picture.  

It is noteworthy that both of these groups work more than the typical Indiana lawyer in the sample (~45 hours per week).  Here is the graph that includes the 40 or fewer and the 41 to 50 hour per week groups.  


What makes these findings more credible is the relatively large spread for "Career Permits Life Outside of Work," where the 51-60 and 60+ hour groups are pulling up the rear.  

So what is the impact of longer hours of lawyer satisfaction?  Well, the answer is likely complicated.  The most satisfied lawyers, at least in Indiana, appear to be those working longer hours.  The simplest explanation is that they love their work.  Lawyers working fewer hours appear to acknowledge the better work-life balance and the organizational flexibility that makes it possible.  But shorter hours are not associated with higher scores on the other dimensions of satisfaction.  Apparently, at least some lawyers prefer an all-you-can-work buffet style workplace.

The results above are descriptive statistics.  In a multivariate model where the outcome variable is "My Work is Professionally Satisfying," we statistically controlled for many factors, including age, income, gender, and practice setting.  In that model, both hours worked per week and organizational support for flexible work arrangements were statistically significant positive predictors--i.e., more hours worked flexibly improved professional satisfaction.  The most important predictor, however, was whether the workplace culture enables lawyers to thrive. Income and practice setting were also important.  On balance, female lawyers were slightly more satisfied than men, but the difference was not statistically significant.

So for Indiana lawyers, professional satisfaction appears to be a two-way street:  Employers can always get better, but sometimes it makes more sense for a lawyer to change job in order to find a better organizational fit.

These results reminded me of one of my favorite work-life balance stories.  A few years ago, a very talented legal aid lawyer visited Indiana Law's Career Choices speaker series.  After letting the students know that his job did not have very high pay (less than $50,000 per year), he was asked about work-life balance.  He replied, "Great question.  I love my job. I love helping my clients.  But I also love my family.  So I have to work pretty hard to limit myself to 60 hours per week."  In a room with nearly 100 1Ls, you could hear a pin drop.

We are going to do more work with The Indiana Lawyer sample.  When we do, I will direct readers to the results.

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