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To Avoid Lawyer Burnout, Remove Rote, Mechanistic Work

October 26, 2021

contracts law companies contracting burnout corporate law

The linked article from Legaltech News outlines how remote working communication devices have made the attorney’s job run 24 x7 in an already stressed environment. The result: attorney burnout and attrition are a daily reality.

However, the communication tools are not, in and of themselves, the problem. It is their overuse that makes attorneys’ lives more difficult because too much communication overwhelms their bandwidth by forcing them to focus on too many things at once. However, if we look deeper, we find that in today’s corporate environment, commercial attorneys are especially prone to burnout due to the high demands placed on them to support buy- and sell-side deals, all with alleged “bet the company” urgency. Many of these deals are routine – not in the sense that they are unimportant but rather that their terms and characteristics are unexceptional.

These routine deals are both on the buy- and sell-side. They involve contracts that regulate transactions that happen daily: purchasing consulting services or software, selling the company’s core products, updating customer MSAs or NDAs. The same sort of work repeatedly occurs: reviewing contracts for indemnity and liability terms, redlining counter-party contracts (e.g., in a SaaS purchase), and so on. These are all critical deals to support company operations – however, they are routine in that they are not bespoke.

Contracts such as the ones described above typically contain similar (if not identical) provisions. Companies usually negotiate the vast majority of these provisions the same way and have the same risk thresholds (although sometimes there is a willingness to accept more risk depending on the customer or vendor).

This situation lends itself to creating a playbook documenting the company’s stance on particular provisions. Such a resource can also contain alternate provisions to use should the standard provision prove unsuitable. This approach can typically address 70-80% of contracting scenarios.

What about the remaining 20-30%? For those, an organisation can establish and document an exception and approval protocol such that its attorneys are not burdened by having to do an initial review and preliminary negotiation. Contract managers, experienced paraprofessionals, or attorneys at a law company can use the playbook and escalation/approval procedures to execute the work on behalf of the company.

A key benefit of this approach is that it relieves in-house attorneys of burdensome rote work. They only need to be involved for escalation and approval, thus significantly reducing their contract-related workload. They can then focus on more substantive issues of law and business — also be happier when they go home to their families at a reasonable hour (or these days, leave the home office and walk over to the dinner table).

Hardly anyone disputes that we need to do a better job socialising proper use of communication tools so they are not abused. But let’s start with the core issue: for the sake of reducing burnout and making the job more tolerable, we need to — please! — “enable lawyers to practice more law” and let others do more routine, non-bespoke work.

A key factor for that burnout, which is stoking attrition, is lawyers and their organizations are not setting boundaries or expectations…

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