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Lawyer's death raises questions about work life balance at law firms

I just read a a story that terrified me has made me feel the need to put this question out there: Can a person work so hard, it kills him?

It just may have happened in West Virginia. News reports say Adam Maynard, a 35-year-old associate in the labor andAdam-Maynard1 employment practice at Dinsmore & Shohl passed away at home after working "maniac hours" at his regional law firm the week before. The New York Times' Above the Law blog reports that Dinsmore as a whole is a sizable shop, an Am Law 200 firm with almost 500 lawyers. But they’re spread out over 13 cities in multiple states, and the Charleston office that was Maynard’s professional home has only about 30 attorneys.

The post notes that no one knows for certain why Maynard passed away, but his friends say he was gunning for partner and working hard before the end — very hard. Apparently Maynard had been billing over 20 hours a day for multiple days in a row. Those days came as a crescendo of a “month of nonstop billing,” a friend told bloggerElie Mystal. Firm memos indicate that Dinsmore partners are internally pushing the line that Maynard’s death had “nothing to do” with the crazy hours he was working.

Mystal writes: "It’s a sad story, one that some accuse the law firm of trying to cover up, but it’s another opportunity for us to remind readers to take care of themselves even when work seems overwhelming… no employer is going to care as much about your health as you do."

Well put Elie!

 What's scary to me about this is that there are Maynards at almost any service firm. People are pushing themselves harder and harder, I see it everywhere I go -- but particularly in the legal industry.  For those of you working way too hard or watching someone else do it, today might be the day to assess the situation.

Do you think Maynard felt shame in admitting he needed a break? Have you ever felt that way? Do you think superiors should pick up on the signals that employees are on the edge? Do they have a responsibility to step in and say something or is the burden on the employee to know his limits?




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It is a shame. This was certainly an extraordinary situation, but the life of a lawyer can be beyond stressful. It's not just billables we're talking about. They have to worry about bringing in new business and then managing them, take CLEs, and find time to network. There's no time for family or even leisure. It can get completely overwhelming.

We haven't even considered how much harder it is for women, who sometimes not only have to worry about putting in hours at work, they have to worry about home too. They are not advancing as they should, and the number of women on partnership track or positions is decreasing. These women are usually in child bearing stages of their lives and simply cannot devote the time and dedication to compete.

The attrition rate in some of these big firms is ridiculous and although some of them have considered it, they need to address the well being of their associates, physically and mentally. I say if you're going to require so much of these people, perhaps you should have beds, showers, a chef and masseuse on hand so that they really never have to leave. There is no balance and its about time these big firms offer real solutions for work/life balance. Its a win/win. Take care of your people, and they'll take care of you. Squeeze the life out of them and everyone loses.

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