Angie Hickey, CEO of Levenfeld Pearlstein (LP), is a forward-thinking executive in the legal industry. She is widely recognized as a trailblazer and authority in areas such as client experience, succession planning, culture, and inclusion — and after this interview, we can add well-being to the list.
We spoke to Hickey and asked how she frames the importance of well-being through the lens of client experience, profitability, and business development.
Well-Being as a Business Strategy
According to Hickey, the firm’s “entire business strategy is to build a consistent and unparalleled experience for clients. It is through this strategic lens that we do everything, including focusing on well-being.” Over the years, as the client experience strategy has become institutionalized, the purview has evolved to also encompass employee experience because “the competition is not just for clients, it’s also equally fierce for talent,” she says.
The reason behind the intentional focus on employee experience is simple. “When our employees have a positive experience, which includes attention to their well-being, then they, in turn, are in a better place to create a positive client experience.” Importantly, LP does not distinguish attorney well-being from staff well-being. Well-being is important for talent at every level.
LP emphasizes the connection of employee experience and client experience in conversations directly with clients during regular client interviews and check-in meetings, through business development training programs for attorneys, and through formal client communication channels where news is shared about investments being made to enhance the experience of clients.
“Clients are receptive to hearing about who we are as people, how we treat each other, and how that makes a difference for them,” Hickey explains.
“If you don’t think we’re the right firm for you and you choose another firm, we respect that,” Hickey says. “However, we invite you to really explore that other firm, how they treat each other, and how they interact with each other, because that will make a difference in how you will be serviced.”
Meeting Clients’ Demands without Burning Out your Staff
Hickey acknowledges that the easy part of putting well-being into practice is the implementation of the policies that support it, such as wellness programs, and other benefits. The hard part, she emphasizes, “is really getting people on the ground to live it.” However, Levenfeld Pearlstein’s strategy for embedding well-being and self-care into the fabric of the firm’s culture is multi-pronged.
Prioritize those who manage staff day to day — The pressure of client demands and to seemingly always be available is intense and often undermines well-being efforts. Work assignments are a particular source of tension. Partners have significant influence in setting expectations with clients and with attorneys. If they do not buy into the case for well-being, it is not going to get very far. At LP, partners regularly discuss the benefits and opportunities of embracing well-being as well as the cost of not doing so. It’s one of those concepts that is simple to understand but very hard to execute. Hickey stresses the urgency to influence the prioritization of well-being in the “micro moments” — those moments of interaction where the conscious consideration of the team member’s well-being occurs. At some point, these moments begin to permeate the culture and can actually cause a shift, she notes.
To aid this “awareness-building” stage among the partners, the firm has regular small group dinner meetings where they discuss important business topics such as culture, inclusion, resilience, and well-being. They then engage in a dialogue.
This free-flowing discussion among the intergenerational partners is critical to exploring a wide perspective of the tug of war between well-being and meeting client demands. The opportunity is to find a way to have both.
Lead by example — Levenfeld Pearlstein also prides itself on walking their talk, and Hickey realizes that as a leader she has to take care of herself. To do this, she creates space for herself to reflect by practicing yoga, meditating, reading poetry, spending time every day in nature, and not sleeping with her phone by her bed.
She also understands that all of the firm’s efforts could be wasted if the partners don’t take their own personal well-being seriously. “If a leader is always working at a frenetic pace and demands so much of themselves and everyone around them, and doesn’t give themselves a break, then they are sending an unhealthy message to the next generation of lawyers at the firm,” she explains.
Give people access to coaching — The firm also invests in coaching to better institute well-being into the firm’s culture. For those who may be experiencing a challenge at work or outside of work, coaching is a game-changing modality because it gives the “naysayers” the opportunity to see another way and to perhaps even experience the positive outcomes that occur when they are going through a rough period.
Impact of Well-Being on Firm Performance
Hickey understands that the people absorb information differently. Some will be influenced by the sharing of personal stories during the small dinner gatherings while others respond to data and facts. Hickey also uses this strategy to engage the left-brain, analytical nature of partners by spotlighting research on the effects of burnout and the impact of well-being from both the positive and the negative outcome angles.
In addition, she uses business metrics — including the impact on turnover rates — to make the case for prioritizing well-being. A recent study from Mercer, a human resources consulting firm, indicates that organizations that offer extensive well-being resources and programs, had an 11% lower turnover compared to those who did only a few things. Indeed, a small investment in well-being offers law firms a tremendous savings opportunity on turnover with estimated cost savings among large law firms of $25 million per year, according to research from legal talent consultants JD Match and The Right Profile.
Another key research metric that Levenfeld Pearlstein uses is the error rate and the risk of malpractice. Attempts to quantify the cost of mistakes of impaired lawyers are rudimentary at best, but some estimates have been made of the impact by looking at the large number of lawyer disciplinary actions involving substance abuse issues, which sits between 25% and 30%.
Hickey shares that the investment in well-being is a long-game that begins with creating awareness and then finding wedges of opportunity to begin to shift the culture through the actions of the people in it. That well-being as a business strategy is finally gaining attention in the legal industry is good for everyone.