What if… (business) lawyers worked less?


In those unprecedented times, it is, more than ever, time to have great conversations.

In a mini-series of articles, I would like to share some “What-if?” thoughts with you. Some of them may seem controversial or blunt, they are in any case intended to be (thought-) provocative and to gently challenge the status quo.

Please share you own thoughts and let’s debate!


You are a partner in a business law firm, experiencing quarantine time.

Being home, for the last 9 weeks, probably more than you ever did during the last 10 years (of course cumulatively), you maybe did discover that:

–         you like biking with your kids in the weekend,

–         your relationship with your partner goes far better when you spend some time together,

–         life is short?

Maybe you have even caught yourself thinking: “What if we kept working less, or at least differently, when all this is over?”.

Discussing the subject with several business law firms, I invariably hear the same reasoning. Imposing deadly hour targets within the firm, and by doing so, maximizing the Profit Per Partner (PPP) ensures to attract and retain “the best lawyers” and to remain “at the top of the market”.

This is where, in my opinion, business law firms may shoot themselves in the foot.

“Hard on system, soft on people” is one of my guiding principles.

I don’t blame the business lawyers (I was one) but, as a systemic coach, I like to challenge the system they are in.

A system that makes lots of them unhappy.

1. Let’s go back to the assumption that by maximizing the PPP, you will attract “the best lawyers”.

First of all, what if the people who came for the money were also very likely to leave you because of the money, when they get a better offer?

Each year, one can follow the mercato of the “lateral hires”: lawyers – associates and partners – moving from one firm to another like football players, in a quest for a better position.

Every lawyer knows it: the perspective to make (a lot of) money together is not sufficient to create an affectio societatis.

What if – beside money – all the other reasons why people join the firm – and remain – needed to be much more significant?

2. Secondly, by maximizing the PPP, you will make sure to attract a certain type of “best lawyers”.

But to what extent exactly is their ambition to earn big money an accurate criterion for assessing their professional excellence?

What if the vast majority of “best lawyers” were more than comfortable with less money?

3. Let’s face it (and only slightly exaggerate it): those irrationally high levels of fees (and the correlated hour targets above mentioned) imply for the lawyers to have “no life”, every human interaction in a day being basically “rated” through the prism of billable/non-billable hours.

Such a context is very unlikely to allow lawyers to grow and expand as a person, not to mention as a business partner, both for the clients and for the peers, or as a leader.

What if “the system” actually created – in the first place – and then reinforced – by recruiting and promoting it – a specific type of profile: the stereotypically Alpha person, individualistic, expert and – very often included in the “package”- big ego ?

4. Times are changing fast.

What if more and more clients were done with these “big ego/big money” profiles?

What if clients were better served by lawyers who want to have a positive impact, lawyers who want to make a difference before making money ?

5. What if more and more lawyers were fed up with the “big ego/big money” profiles too?

What if partners needed to be able to rely on and trust each other?

What if associates deeply wanted to work for people they can look up to?

6. What if the (business) law firms that do not have a purpose other than maximizing the PPP (Profit Per Partner) were to decline and disappear with the last “golden boys” from the ’80?

What if the world needed (business) lawyers who care ?

I believe that law firms can be a place where it is nice to work, to make a difference and have a fulfilled life. Lawyers can be proud to be business lawyers.

Together with KnowtoGrow, we are preparing a new service to better support you in the development of your firm. See you soon at Intuitu – Partners for lawyers.