Author: Ben Carpenter

Ben is a Senior Vice President and Deputy General Counsel at U.S. Bank.  He leads a team of lawyers and legal professionals who provide legal support for U.S. Bank’s Consumer and Business Banking Division and is the Executive Sponsor of the U.S. Bank Law Division’s well-being program.

Why is it such a challenge to routinely employ common courtesy, honest communication, and mutual respect in the legal profession?  Is it that client demands prevent it?  Or is it because our motivation to provide exceptional client service means that we be always available?  What is so unique about how lawyers operate that makes it more difficult for us to be “human?”

In the Law Division at U.S. Bank, we are working to make well-being considerations part of our attorney-client engagements.  Working with seven leading U.S. law firms, we have developed and implemented a set of guidelines to help each other be mindful of how we communicate, how we respect boundaries, how we manage projects, and how we can leverage each other’s resources to promote well-being across our firms.

The guidelines function as a simple reminder that we should be thoughtful about how we interact and work together to ensure that well-being remains a priority and that we are held accountable to it.  It does not remove certain realities – that there are matters that require urgent attention, that the level of responsibility we assume creates stress, and that results matter – but, instead, functions as a tool to help manage through those situations in a way that promotes better outcomes.

Setting expectations

The guidelines have four components, each of which are intended to set expectations for how we can interact in a way that supports mutual well-being.

  1. Communication: This is about being mindful of how we interact and encourages each side to communicate preferences for correspondence (email, phone, text) and prepare for out-of-office situations, such as designating a backup for urgent matters. Recognizing that it’s necessary to be away, and that it is sometimes unexpected, we believe that planning beforehand for these situations will reduce the stress associated with not always being connected.
  2. Work-Life Balance: We are each responsible for maintaining proper work-life balance, particularly as it relates to maintaining health.  It is important to recognize that peoples’ schedules vary, and we should be mindful about setting expectations around urgency and priorities.  We believe that being clearer about expectations will help inform timelines and enable better balance among competing priorities.
  3. Project Management: This relates to taking time at the outset to discuss some of the stress points in attorney-client relationships, such as billing and managing client expectations.  We need to make sure that our interests are aligned and that we manage the project in a way that promotes collaboration and effectiveness.
  4. Joint Programming Activities: Particularly with today’s technology and recognizing that this is a profession-wide issue that requires us to work together to solve, we believe that many events and activities that we make available internally can also be shared externally through web conferencing and other tools. 

These guidelines, and their implementation, are a work-in-progress.  Ultimately, this project is about re-setting client expectations and committing to a mutual understanding of how we will work together in a manner that supports attorney well-being. 

Challenges to consider

  • There is a stigma around well-being, as if adopting behaviors that support well-being may compromise a lawyer’s ability to provide exceptional service. Well-being is a responsibility, not a luxury, that is an integral component of our collective ability to satisfy our duty of competency.  Adopting behaviors that support well-being is not only necessary to the profession, but it makes us better lawyers.
  • In today’s environment of flexible work arrangements and ubiquitous communication devices, there is no single set of rules or standards that work for everyone. It is easy to lose boundaries, and to assume that having the ability to connect means we should always be connected.  Therefore, in these times, it is more important than ever to discuss and confirm expectations for availability and how to connect. 

Ultimately, we hope that the guidelines will become forgotten and replaced by adopted habits and practices that have become part of our culture and relationships.

Although we’re just getting started, we are already seeing small changes in behaviors that are making a big difference in the quality of our attorney client relationships.  To be sure, results matter.  At U.S. Bank, we believe that healthier lawyers and better relationships will drive better results.