It’s been said that lawyers are much like firefighters – called to help on what might be the worst days of a client’s life. Once the fires’ doused and business and/or personal crises return to normality, there is little ongoing need for a lawyer in one’s day-to-day life beyond the provision of good counsel and preventative advice.
For lawyers, regardless of their area of practice, this may mean that their work life assumes a surreal state of constant crisis by proxy, which can bear detrimental impacts upon their health and mental wellbeing. Insights spoke to Margot de Groot, Director of de Groots wills and estates lawyers, on the initiatives, ranging from a wellness room to rest and recuperate to genuinely flexible work practices that promote a happy, productive and egalitarian workplace, and in turn delivers better outcomes for clients.
“The philosophies which underpin our firm's culture are driven by our values,” said Margot. “First and foremost, we aim to see everything through our clients’ eyes, work as a team and pursue excellence in all we do.”
This approach has seen de Groots quietly pioneer many workplace practices. When fitting out their offices in 2004, the firm worked closely with architects to create an open plan office at a time when this design style was in its infancy.
“We wanted to achieve a ‘one firm / one team’ approach rather than a ‘them and us’ approach,” explained Margot. “We wanted every member of the firm to enjoy the same style of accommodation and access to light and views. By congregating everyone together, we were also able to take advantage of the ease of access to each other to collaborate more easily in the work we do. We have sought to have a collegiate approach.”
Flexible work arrangements were also embraced early on by the firm, including remote access IT and in 2011, cloud computing.
“Some of our staff are raising young children, some are studying and some live long distances from our office. Whatever the reason, flexible work arrangements have meant staff can work from home for part of the week, or work less days in the week. Our main focus is on achieving work outcomes, but not at the cost of good health and excessive time away from family and friends,” said Margot.
“We also converted one of our offices to a ‘wellness room’ to provide staff with a space to take time out to relax during the day or do some stretching and yoga. It’s available for everyone to use as they wish. We have mindfulness sessions each morning which are attended by about a third of our staff.”
The firm also encourages staff to adopt the Alexander Technique to assist with good posture and provides a standing computer station for typing.
“It’s our responsibility to provide a healthy work environment to support staff to work effectively and maintain their physical and mental wellbeing,” said Margot. “We’ve had a low turnover of staff over the years and most speak well of the various health and wellbeing initiatives we’ve adopted at the firm. We are a signatory to the Psychological Wellbeing: Best Practice Guidelines for the Legal Profession developed by the Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation. Those guidelines seek to promote mental health in the legal workplace.”
While a proactive, positive approach to promoting lawyer wellbeing has paid off for the firm, Margot noted that finding the best initiatives to adopt could, at times, be challenging.
“There is no one size fits all. Each business has its unique features and distinct culture. I find that attending conferences on business management and reading about what is happening in other industries is very helpful. For example, Richard Susskind’s ‘Tomorrow’s Lawyers’ and ‘The Future of the Professions’ has pushed us to re-think how we do everything, particularly in view of the disruptors affecting the legal profession.”
However, Margot noted, the best ideas often come from within the business.
“It’s important to understand the DNA of your business and how to preserve and enrich it.
“If the fundamentals of the business are sound and clients and staff are valued, then there should be momentum for constant improvement, with a consequent uplift in performance,” said Margot.