The Business Case for Empathy and Employee Wellness

Is law firm empathy for employees “sustainable”? (What a weird question!) Most firms implemented cultural changes to adapt during the pandemic, and Law.com recently explored whether they will endure if there’s an economic downturn.

During the pandemic, firms pivoted to remote working and flexible schedules, and prioritized employees’ mental health. Many firms also invested in DEI initiatives in response to racial and social injustices.

Now the question is: Will firms’ cultural changes be temporary or permanent? The answer depends on who you ask.

End of empathy?

Some legal industry observers believe the pandemic and social upheaval of the past few years accelerated a wellness movement that had already begun. This camp expects firms’ cultural changes to stick.

But not everyone agrees. Law.com predicts that “the firms that do continue to push empathy are likely the same ones that were more attuned to it before 2020, and those that didn’t will likely revert to their previous positions.”

Embracing empathy

Marketers and communicators can help firms embrace empathy by sharing stories — internally and externally — of how compassionate policies increase business success. Empathy is making an impact in two key areas: productivity and retention. More compassionate firms saw increases in both.

Analyzing a report that dubbed firms with low turnover as “stay” firms, and those with high turnover rates as “go” firms, Reuters Legal found lawyers value culture and colleagues more than cash, and called out how “lawyers at stay firms billed an average of 1,754 hours in 2021, compared to 1,698 at go firms.”

It makes sense that lawyers who are happier with their firm are more productive and, in turn, driving firm profitability. And it’s no surprise that employees who are treated well want to stay with their firm.

As firms continue competing for legal talent, their cultures are vital to staff retention, as the National Law Review has noted. Retaining employees saves firms time and money, and better retention means greater continuity for clients. All are compelling business cases for firms to emphasize empathy, flexibility and wellness.

What stories can you share about your firm? Consider relationships within your firm, and between lawyers and clients. You won’t have to look hard for stories that exemplify the benefits of policies that encourage employees to bring their whole selves to work.