American Lawyer reports that Benenati Law Firm, an Orlando, Florida-based personal injury practice, moved staff to a 4-day week in 2019.
Benenati has seen positive results from his shortened workweek. The personal injury and bankruptcy lawyer says he is as competitive as they come—a necessity because personal injury giant Morgan & Morgan is based in the same city. But the firm has not suffered as a result of the shortened week. Monthly retention numbers haven’t dropped, and office morale and productivity are up, he said.
“I always want to be the one getting all the business, but I realized it’s so important to be able to pick up your kid and see your wife on Friday,” Benenati said. “Productivity is better because everything needs to be done by Thursday and people are fully refreshed after a three-day weekend.”
The firm’s employees do not work fewer hours per week than they would if they worked five days. Its five attorneys, as well as 14 of its 19 staff, work 10-hour days instead of the typical eight, starting at 8 a.m. and ending at 6 p.m., to ensure billing doesn’t drop and “everybody still gets their 40 hours,” Benenati said.
Four staff members and one case manager work the traditional five-day week because they preferred to work until 5 p.m., Benenati said. And every Friday, one attorney is rotated in to field any consultations or incoming work.
The companies I talk about in SHORTER (US | UK) are making even more radical changes in their schedules, reducing both their working hours and workweeks, but this is still a significant thing, given how billable hours, time consciousness, and a belief in the magical power of overwork dominates American legal practice.
As the article notes, plenty of American law firms have started programs to improve work-life balance, both to attract good associates and to keep skilled and valuable people from burning out and leaving; but despite these programs, professional culture keeps people from using them.
Vacation time, flexible work hours and paid parental leave have become near-standard as firms have looked to recruit top-flight young talent and retain women attorneys. But these resources often go untapped, said Lauren Rikleen, president of the Rikleen Institute for Strategic Leadership.
One survey found that more than 90% of Big Law firms offer these kinds of programs, but only about 4% of staff use them. More broadly, people who move to flexible schedules risk being seen as less dedicated than their colleagues who are always in the office– even when they actually work extra hours in an effort to avoid having their dedication challenges.
One of the great virtues of the 4-day week is that when it’s something that everyone does, concerns about professional visibility disappear.
“One of the biggest problems right now with the way flexibility is provided in the profession is that it always comes with a stigma attached,” Rikleen said. “We live in a world where flexibility is a lot easier to implement than people feel it is, yet we still hear issues around the stigma concern that comes with it.”
In most work environments, attorneys who have a flexible schedule size up their workload by comparing it with colleagues who work a different schedule. But an environment in which people have a uniform day and an abridged week eliminates the comparison and weakens the stigma, she said.
Law is one of the examples that people like to raise as a profession where a 4-day week could never work, but there are other law firms that have moved to 4-day weeks. In the Netherlands, BvdV has been operating on a 4-day week since 2006. In the UK, Portcullis Legals in Plymouth also adopted a 4-day week in 2019. I don’t know of others in the United States, but I suspect we’re going to see more in 2020.