80-Hour Weeks, Key to Lost Productivity and Living for Lawyers

So last time, I talked about how overwork leads to lower productivity levels at work. How, in fact, overwork and lack of sleep can lead you to behave, cognitively, as if you had a .10 blood alcohol level. All without drinking a drop, woot!

rope with one hanging thread about to snap

If you feel like this is your life and you're working 60-, 70- and 80-hour weeks constantly, there's good news: Your grip on reality is still intact. If not much else.

Yeah, lawyers, we’re always putting all our effort into dysfunctional behaviors and then burning out. It’s no wonder so many lawyers are seeking a different, alternative career or career path. At least that is a rational response.

Three 80-hour Weeks and You’re Toast

Need more proof? Well, that bastion of business thought, the Business Roundtable, has some eye-popping evidence that lawyers’ workload is purely insane. As Sara Robinson in Bring Back the 40-Hour Work Week puts it:

“The Business Roundtable study found that after just eight 60-hour weeks, the fall-off in productivity is so marked that the average team would have actually gotten just as much done and been better off if they’d just stuck to a 40-hour week all along. And at 70- or 80-hour weeks, the fall-off happens even faster: at 80 hours, the break-even point is reached in just three weeks.”

Three weeks, people. When’s the last year you pulled “only” 3 of those nasty 80-hour weeks?

So we have an entire profession that is showing up drunk to work and not Continue reading

Overworked Lawyers: Delicate, Drunk Flowers

You know that mythical time in law practice, when billable hour goals were 1600 and you were expected to be part of the community? Turns out that such expectations reflected a much larger business norm, actually a deep belief, that working more than 40 hours a week led to decreased productivity over the long term. And this belief was borne out by data collected by businesses, not labor unions. Astounding, isn’t it?

Lawyer at desk with wine bottle

Leaving the lilac shirt aside, showing up at the office like this would likely get you escorted to rehab. Yet even minor sleep losses have the same effect, you drunk lawyer you.

I found all this and more out in a marvelous article on Salon, Bring Back the 40-hour Work Week, by Sara Robinson. I always thought that the 40-hour work week was forced on business by labor unions. Not entirely. Labor unions certainly agitated for it, but businesses actually supported a 40-hour week as well by the time the Fair Labor Standards Act passed.

In 1914, Henry Ford led the way, by doubling his workers’ wages and cutting them from a 47-hour week to a 40-hour week. It totally pissed off his competition that Ford’s productivity then leapfrogged over their car factories’ productivity. But they wised up and followed suit.

So what do the productivity limits of an 8-hour factory worker day have to do with lawyers? After all, it’s not like you’re on your feet all day or swinging a hammer, right? Continue reading