The name, the Mindful Business Charter, does not in itself inspire huge confidence but, judging the legal profession on its willingness to at least try to address stress and mental health pressures, the initiative still constitutes pretty much law’s quality-of-life cutting edge.
The venture, first put together last year by Pinsent Masons, Addleshaw Goddard and Barclays, was an attempt to draw up a charter setting out what clients and law firms should reasonably expect of individual lawyers. A kind of rules of engagement, if you will, for not running your people into the ground.
There is more scope than we’ve seen so far for the profession to turn the designation ‘lifestyle firm’ from insult to plaudit.
The charter is not perfect but it has the merit of being fairly concise and by the subterranean standards of modern business-speak, keeps the corporate Esperanto to an inoffensive level. Split into four parts, it is the section on ‘Respecting rest periods’ where the rubber meets the road, or at least grazes it, with the radical suggestion of ‘respecting people’s right to take annual leave without the expectation of them… being on call’.
It is far from perfect, timid in its goals and vague in its articulation, falling short as it does of even a suggestion that emails out-of-office-hours should be broadly avoided. Having been expanded to cover eight Barclays’ panel firms, including Clifford Chance, Ashurst and Hogan Lovells, as well as the in-house teams at Lloyds Banking Group and NatWest, there have been varying levels of commitment to its execution so far. Given the well-earned reputation of in-house banking legal teams for comprehensively taking the mick with their advisers, that is understandable. The lack of monitoring agreed benchmarks for compliance also speaks to the limitations of this first effort.
And yet in the context of a legal profession that has for a decade been locked in hand-wringing and unconstructive finger-pointing between GCs and law firms over who is to blame for stressed-out associates, it is potentially a valuable first step.
For one, Barclays itself has considerable buying power and clout in the market thanks to its reputation as a forward-thinking buyer of legal services, while the venture is another indication that Pinsents can do something useful with its reputation as a progressive institution; there is more scope than we’ve seen so far for the profession to turn the designation ‘lifestyle firm’ from insult to plaudit. But the greatest virtue of the charter is simply its publication, allowing its merits and flaws to be openly debated. The hope is that such initiatives can be widened and developed across the industry. It also displays a commendable level of transparency from the in-house community, or Barclays at least, a group that often talks up the joys of knowledge sharing and partnership while doing a poor job of meaningfully forwarding debate in the profession.
Obviously, dealing with stress in the profession is a delicate balance for the simple reason that the gig has sky-high remuneration and charge-out rates that bring expectations of top-notch service. But difficult doesn’t mean impossible. If built upon the charter could provide a little progress. Or the profession can just go back to prolific levels of burnout, divorce and quitting law entirely for its expensively-trained troops. Whichever you prefer.
See more on the Mindful Business Charter in No alarms and no surprises – Behind the Mindful Business Charter.