The fourth Regional Law Firm Management Forum organised by The Australasian Legal Practice Management Association (ALPMA) is happening in Singapore on 18 October 2019 at the Mandarin Oriental.
Leading up to the forum, ALN had the opportunity to conduct an email interview with one of the speakers, Mr Andrew Douglas, the Managing Principal of FCW Lawyers from Australia. He will be speaking on Health and Wellbeing in law firms in the upcoming forum.
Before establishing FCW Lawyers, Mr Douglas was the National Head of Workplace Relations and Head of Dispute Resolutions at other law firms. He has extensive experience working with public and private companies on various areas of Workplace Law, including employment, health and safety, workers’ compensation, dispute resolution, privacy and investigations.
In addition to being a legal practitioner in Workplace Law, Mr Douglas authored several books on health and safety law, published many articles on workplace wellbeing and is the Managing Director of a Technology business that develops and sells wellbeing software in to the Australian and Asian market.
Thank you for taking some time to chat with us, could you share with our readers what made you choose to be a lawyer and what drives you today?
I always loved problem-solving, language and ideas, so Law seemed the right fit for me. What we do at FCW Lawyers is to help clients to find creative solutions that build value for them.
You have a wealth of experience and interest in Workplace Law, what’s the reason behind choosing this practice area?
Before practising Workplace Law, I worked as a Banking, Building and Construction lawyer and I was also the Head of Litigation in a prior law firm.
I crossed paths with Workplace Law when I acted in Australia for large builders against aggressive unions. I realised that Workplace Law was fast-moving strategic work, and how we conducted ourselves could either create enormous client opportunity or risk.
I knew that Workplace Law was more aligned with my personality and interests. My short attention span supports the fast-moving nature of Workplace Law disputes and my strength to simplify complex matters coincides with the strategic work. More importantly, my ability to bring out the best of my counterparts during communications was crucial in dealing with personal issues within the disputes.
One thing my prior life as a litigator taught me is, the more you fight; the more everyone loses. This is particularly the case in workplace disputes which are very personal to the parties. I find when we act in a respectful and civilised manner, we tend to get better outcomes and you feel better as a lawyer and a person doing it.
Increasingly, workplace wellbeing is a top priority across all industries, in your opinion, how important is this for the legal community specifically?
The Meritas Australia and New Zealand survey of wellness found that 85% of all lawyers had experienced anxiety or knew someone who did in their workplace, and 60% said they had experienced depression or knew someone who did.
The evidence is compelling, both at the human level and the productivity level. Our obligations at common law and under safety legislation demand that employers act to prevent this known hazard. Further, as a husband, father and grandfather, I would never let someone I love suffer risk or pain if I could stop it, so why would that be different when that person is your employee?
The evidence, back from Lord Roben first penned the first safety legislation, uncontroversially proved that if you have safe systems of work and care about the welfare of your employees, you will have a more productive and happier workplace with better skills and talent retention. There is more evidence now and the business case is more compelling.
In your experience, do you feel that the long hours and billing pressures (which is still common in most law firms) will inevitably lead to poor mental health for the more junior associates?
I think the more important question to ask is, what creates the greatest return for the client?
I believe that healthy, happy and clever people working in a respectful environment that has a clarity of purpose, responsibility and accountability creates the most value.
The long working hours problem is due to several reasons such as poor organisation, bad work systems or poor technology. In better-constructed law firms, non-legal specialists are managing and offering core non-legal services that facilitate the delivery of services, and that significantly reduces the workload of the lawyers. The lawyers are happier doing what they do best, and that in turn makes hitting the required billable hours easier as well.
Working longer unproductive hours only increases billable hours but that certainly would not bring more value to the client. And, as your question suggests, it clearly damages young employees, their relationships with loved ones their need to develop worldly maturity. If you live in a world with no windows you never see the world.
What are your top 3 tips to law firms to ensure the wellbeing of their lawyers are well taken care of?
One, to gather evidence that accurately advises you what are the risks and opportunities to improve employees’ health, happiness and productivity; these three aspects are inter-related in the wellbeing of employees.
Two, to train your leaders in respectful neuropsychological leadership skills, to ensure the subordinates are working at the best of their ability and feel that they are valued by the organisation.
Three, to create and execute a strategy of “Listen, Learn, Lead” that is lived and modelled by your leaders.
What are your top 3 tips to lawyers themselves to keep their wellbeing in check?
For starters, the opportunities on wellbeing care that are offered to the employees are usually not mandatory. The employees have to opt in for these activities and they may not do so for various reasons.
I think for an individual, the top three tips to consider would be;
One, get a mentor/coach who is skilled in organisational psychology and business coaching;
Two, eat well, exercise frequently and sleep well; and
Three, recognise your strengths and pursue what you do best, and know that it takes courage to acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses.
Without a doubt, practicing in this area of law must also be tough on you, how do you balance this outside of work?
I drink, but only good wine. I also meditate, exercise regularly and have regular family events.
I seek to learn new things and ideas, which ultimately can be integrated into my work method. Hence the Technology start-up which is now mature and creating great data and opportunities to disrupt normal methods of legal practice for clients and staff. Although that is part of my work, it is also great for my learning and personal growth. In this aspect, I am very lucky as my executive group and my board offers great support, challenge and leadership.
Could you share with us 3 fun facts about yourself?
I started studying fine arts after secondary school until the age of 18 when I realised I was not talented, so I collect art instead.
I drink a glass of milk and eat a block of chocolate on most Friday nights, because as a child that was my mother’s gift to me for working hard at school.
I always get my car washed by someone else because as a child I was paid pocket money to wash my father’s car. It gives me extraordinary pleasure to see someone else wash my car.
This article is written by Loh Yaxin from Asia Law Network.
This article does not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion on any matter discussed and, accordingly, it should not be relied upon. It should not be regarded as a comprehensive statement of the law and practice in this area. If you require any advice or information, please speak to a practicing lawyer in your jurisdiction. No individual who is a member, partner, shareholder or consultant of, in or to any constituent part of Interstellar Group Pte. Ltd. accepts or assumes responsibility, or has any liability, to any person in respect of this article.