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[A recent] study supports a widely held view that the legal profession faces significant challenges with regard to attorney well-being. It also found that the most common barriers for attorneys seeking help were fear of others finding out and general concerns about confidentiality “in the competitive, high-stakes environment found in many private firms.”
All of these factors suggest that law firm lawyers would benefit from additional forms of communication and support. And, of course, a law firm ombuds program is not just for lawyers. Staff members working for stressed-out lawyers are likely to feel stressed themselves. Here, however, structural problems may hinder the effectiveness of existing channels. While the role of Human Resources personnel includes addressing staff concerns, these employees may not have the authority to change lawyer behavior. An ombuds who has been appointed by (and has the support of) the law firm leadership may be better situated to surface and resolve issues related to attorney behavior, as well as disputes occurring among staff members themselves.
Based on two years of operation at our law firm, we believe an ombuds program does offer a valuable supplemental resource for both attorneys and staff to address a variety of individual and group concerns about firm policies, co-worker and supervisor behavior, and the workplace environment. Our ombuds program has served as a vehicle to convey certain concerns directly to management while preserving confidentiality or to develop strategies for the inquirer to bring an issue forward. Often, given the stresses of the law firm environment, a staff member or lawyer simply benefits from having a place to talk through a problem.
For all of these reasons, many law firms might find that an organizational ombuds would provide a useful additional channel of communication for lawyers and staff alike. The Attorneys Liability Assurance Society (ALAS), which insures over 60,000 lawyers at over 200 firms, has recommended that law firms adopt an ombuds program as an additional resource in recognition of the fact that some people are just not comfortable raising their concerns through traditional channels, such as the partner in charge of a matter.(ABA Just Resolutions.)
Related posts: ABA Dispute Resolutions Newsletter Focuses on Ombuds; ABA Section of Dispute Resolution Devotes Newsletter to Ombuds Issues; February 2018 ABA Section of Dispute Resolution Newsletter Features Ombuds; Law Firm of Shipman & Goodwin Appoints First Ombuds American Lawyer Magazine: Law Firms Need Ombuds for Sexual Harassment Problem.