Work-Life Balance Trumps Salary When It Comes to Retaining Attorneys

By Jeanette Coleman, SPHR & SHRM-SCP on Apr 13, 2023
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Lawyer work-life balance remains one of the toughest challenges for law firms today when it comes to retaining the best attorneys. Due to the nature of the industry, which includes long work hours, high-pressure environments and demanding clients, lawyers experience burnout at a greater pace than individuals working in many other industries. 

In an attempt to offset the lack of work-life balance and retain staff, you may be tempted to offer associates at your firm unprecedented bonuses and salaries. Unfortunately, the added compensation typically isn’t enough. 

To back that up, a 2021 survey found 60% of respondents said they would happily leave their current law firm for greater work-life balance. And the rate at which attorneys are leaving their current firm for a more desirable one is shocking. Half of associates who left their job in 2021 took one at another law firm. This represents a staggering 149% year-over-year increase.

While some degree of attorney attrition is inevitable, it’s best to prevent it when possible, especially when competition for skilled lawyers and support staff is so fierce. Building a law firm culture that values work-life balance is one way to stay desirable and attract today’s workforce. Understanding why good employees leave is another.

So, how do you shape your firm’s culture in a way that work-life balance isn’t simply words on a wall but rather values that you commit to and uphold daily? Understanding the importance of work-life balance for your associates, the issues unique to attorneys, the implications and how to achieve that balance is a good place to start. 

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Work-Life Balance Issues for Attorneys

As an attorney yourself, you’re not a stranger to your industry. In fact, it is one that is notoriously high-stress. Because of that, lawyers report experiencing burnout, depression and anxiety at a rate greater than those in many other industries. When attorneys at your firm regularly sacrifice their personal lives to meet the demands of their clients and work on complex cases, it can lead to a lack of balance in their lives, which can affect both their mental and physical health. More now than ever, when this happens, your associates will look elsewhere for a firm that values their wellness. 

So, what are the common triggers at your firm? Long hours, a high-stress environment, limited control over schedules, inflexible work hours and unrealistic expectations. When these go unchecked for too long, associates at your firm may experience a negative impact on both their physical and mental health, relationships, job satisfaction and productivity. Here’s what they may be experiencing:

  • Burnout

When people are constantly working and do not have enough time for relaxation and self-care, they can experience burnout. This can lead to physical and mental exhaustion, decreased motivation, and decreased productivity.

  • Health problems

Long hours at work and a lack of time for exercise, healthy eating and sleep can lead to health problems such as obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease.

  • Strained relationships

When people prioritize work over their personal lives, it can strain relationships with family and friends. This can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness.

  • Decreased job satisfaction

When people feel like they are always working and do not have a good work-life balance, they can become unhappy with their job. This can lead to decreased job satisfaction and even resignation.

  • Reduced creativity & innovation

Taking time away from work can allow people to think creatively and come up with new ideas. Without a good work-life balance, people may not have the mental space or time to think creatively or innovate.

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What Can Your Firm Do to Encourage Work-Life Balance

So, how do you help lawyers at your firm achieve work-life balance? Despite the challenges, there are several ways. By setting boundaries, prioritizing self-care, managing time wisely, taking breaks and using technology to their advantage, they can achieve the balance they need to thrive both personally and professionally. 

  • Encourage them to set boundaries & support their efforts

It's essential to set boundaries and communicate them with clients and colleagues. This can include defining work hours, setting limits on after-hours communication and delegating tasks when appropriate.

  • Prioritize self-care

Attorneys should prioritize their mental and physical health by taking breaks, exercising and using their paid time off days, when possible. Taking breaks throughout the day is important to recharge and refocus. This can include taking a short walk, meditating or simply stepping away from the desk for a few minutes. You may even choose to offer gym memberships as part of your employee benefits package.

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  • Offer an EAP

Attorneys who work for firms that offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) are typically aware they can receive free, confidential help for things like substance abuse or marital problems. However, fewer are aware of other benefits offered by their employer’s EAP that can help them achieve better work-life balance, including parenting and caregiving support, retirement concerns, identity theft prevention and recovery and more. Learn seven ways an EAP helps with work-life balance here >>

  • Encourage them to delegate

Attorneys who believe no one can do the job better than they can handicap themselves and limit their companies’ potential. Everyone is stronger surrounded by a capable team than by himself or herself. When you encourage your associates to delegate tasks with clear direction, they will gain efficiency and have time to focus on what they do best. Your firm, as a whole, will also become more efficient. 

  • Implement remote work days & use technology to your advantage

Offering remote or hybrid work arrangements to attorneys at your law firm not only helps with work-life balance, but also recruitment and retention issues. However, remote work comes with significant challenges for legal sector employees and data security must be well thought out. Leveraging secure communication tools can help provide you peace of mind and enable associates to work remotely.

RELATED: Successful Entrepreneurs Aren’t All Business. Here’s How They Enjoy Free Time >>

As a Founder, Are You Struggling with Balance? Outsourcing Your Firm’s HR Can Help

Outsourcing HR and payroll can help founders and partners, like yourself, with work-life balance in several ways:

  • Time-saving

HR and payroll tasks can be time-consuming, especially for founders who may not have dedicated HR staff. Outsourcing these tasks to a third-party provider can free up time to focus on other aspects of your law firm or personal life.

  • Expertise

HR and payroll outsourcing companies have specialized expertise and knowledge in their fields. They are well-versed in the latest laws, regulations and best practices, which can save you time and ensure compliance with regulations.

  • Reduce stress

Managing HR and payroll tasks can be stressful, especially if you are not familiar with these tasks. Outsourcing can relieve you and your partners of this stress, allowing you to focus on core business activities and reduce the risk of burnout.

  • Cost-saving

Outsourcing HR and payroll can be cost-effective, especially if you cannot afford to hire full-time HR staff at your firm. Outsourcing can also help avoid costly mistakes that could result in fines or penalties.


But you won’t want to partner with just any HR outsourcing organization. A certified PEO is the preferred choice for peace of mind and data security. A certified professional employer organization (CPEO) is a PEO recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as the party responsible for paying federal employment taxes on its clients’ employee wages. 

Certification is voluntary and requires PEOs to meet stringent criteria, including annual IRS audits and quarterly assertions from a CPA regarding on-time payment of those taxes. Further, the Certified PEO personnel who make the tax payments must undergo comprehensive background checks.

RELATED: What is a Certified PEO & Why Does Certification Matter >>

Axcet HR Solutions: Continuously IRS-Certified Since 2017

Axcet HR Solutions was proud to meet all requirements, including a documented history of federal, state and local tax compliance, financial responsibility and organizational integrity, to be among the first 10% of PEOs in the nation, and the only Kansas City PEO, to receive the IRS designation of Certified Professional Employer Organization (CPEO).

Certified professional employer organizations must continue to meet significant IRS program requirements* to maintain the Certified PEO designation, which Axcet has done since it first earned certification in 2017. Schedule a consultation today >>

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