Another big global law firm — in this case New York-based Dewey & LeBoeuf, with 1,300 lawyers around the world — is facing extinction, a victim of its own ambitions and, perhaps, some of the very avarice that has fueled the economic meltdown. Google the firm’s name and you’ll come up with plenty of articles offering anticipatory obits.
A brief passage in one piece especially caught my eye. Peter Lattman, writing for the New York Times, quoted a Dewey employee about what it’s like to be there right now:
“Law firms aren’t very joyful places even when things are going well,” said the Dewey employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “How would I describe the atmosphere now? The first word that comes to mind is funereal.”
How interesting: Even when the money is rolling in, these law firms “aren’t very joyful places.” To anyone familiar with the world of what prestige-obsessed lawyers and law students love to call “BigLaw,” this isn’t a surprising characterization.
Think what you will of lawyers and the legal profession, but practicing law is hard work, and doing it well requires plenty of time, intellect, and attention to detail. Important rights and obligations often are at stake. So I understand if the typical BigLaw office lacks the atmosphere of a Broadway musical or a World Series champion ticker tape parade.
Nevertheless, something is wrong when smart, talented people who have so many occupational choices find themselves coalesced in such joyless places to earn a living. The sad story of Dewey and, quite likely, other corporate law firms on the brink, is that they haven’t learned any of the deeper, quality-of-work-life lessons coming out of what we’ve been through during the past four years.
The NWI Eightfold Path
Dear Reader, I ask your indulgence. Let’s steer away from the joyless world of the typical corporate law firm and imagine what workplaces could be like. Three years ago, I offered what I call the New Workplace Institute’s “Eightfold Path” to a psychologically healthy workplace. Here it is, once again, for your consideration.
Drawing on relational-cultural theory, organizational justice, and therapeutic jurisprudence, I suggest asking these eight questions to determine whether or not a workplace is psychologically healthy, productive, and socially responsible toward its own workers:
- Is there a sense of zest, “buzz,” and opportunity in the workplace?
- Do employees feel they are valued and treated with respect and dignity?
- Is the organizational culture friendly, inclusive, and supportive?
- Is organizational decision making fair, transparent, and evenhanded?
- Are diversities of all types welcomed and accepted?
- Does the organization face tough questions concerning employee relations?
- Are allegations of mistreatment of employees handled fairly and honestly, even when the alleged wrongdoers are in positions of power?
- Are compensation and reward systems fair and transparent?