Timesheets and the way in which law firms are structured are driving high rates of depression in the legal profession, according to the managing partner of Marque Lawyers.
Speaking to Lawyers Weekly, Michael Bradley credited the creation of Marque - which is seen by many as a new age law firm - with a deep dissatisfaction with the law, the way it's practiced and the way in which firms operate.
And at the forefront of this dissatisfaction, said Bradley, is timesheets.
"It's just a horrible way to work and an awful way to think about yourself and measure your own value. Nobody likes it. You won't find a lawyer who actually enjoys filling in a timesheet," said Bradley.
"It's kind of insidious and it actually, over time, changes the way you measure success. You end up measuring success by reference to time units, regardless of how you have spent that time. That's not why any of us studied law."
The problem, said Bradley, is that timesheets provide an extremely efficient business model and one which is deeply entrenched in the way the vast majority of firms operate.
But this model, said Bradley, is coming at the expense of employee satisfaction.
"It's a really ... spiritually unsatisfying existence. It's a very efficient business model, but it's basically inhuman and, at an individual level, it's just not satisfying," he said.
"Everyone's destiny is driven by their personal contribution and their success is measured in financial terms against targets. It drives behaviours and attitudes which are really dysfunctional. It's not designed to make people happy. It's not the way we operate in out normal lives. It's just a deeply, ultimately depressing, way to operate."
Unlike Marque, which is a firm in which there are no financial targets, timesheets are not monitored and the quality of relationships supersedes your financial contribution, Bradley believes firms are reluctant to change because of an inherent conservatism, a fear of non-conformity and what he calls a "collective willful blindness".
"There is this dread-filled inertia. Time costing is so easy. It is such a good business model because you can't lose. Nobody wants to give it up," he said.
"It's kind of like ... if we all pretend that it's not there, maybe it'll go away. But if you're as convinced as I am that change is inevitable, then it is very risky to ignore it."
And according to Bradley, ignoring a faulty model is, quite simply, unsustainable, especially with a new and less tolerant breed of lawyers moving through the ranks who will ultimately seek satisfaction elsewhere.
"It's very cynical, I think, to just not address what is an obvious problem, a fundamental problem, that there are so many people in the one profession who are unhappy. You just can't paper over it," he said.
"They are having all these symposiums on depression and making commitments to address it [but] it's kind of pointless. Every firm should be looking inside itself and saying, 'Why are so many of our staff unhappy? What's wrong? Do we need to fundamentally address how we do business?'
"I know a lot of people disagree with that completely, but I am a very interested observer from the sidelines, and very happy not to be in it."
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