Weil Gotshal April Fools – one-off error, or is this what those at the top of law firms think of work-life balance?
Weil Gotshal & Manges’ executive partner Barry Wolf has apologised for an April Fools’ email sent to all fee earners across its offices that seems to have backfired.
In the firm-wide email, entitled “Important New Email Policy,” it was announced that lawyers would no longer receive emails and phone calls between 11pm and 6am and on weekends and during holidays, in order to promote a better work-life balance.
A further snippet of the email read as follows: “When an employee is on vacation, no emails will be transmitted from 11pm on the day prior to start of vacation to 6am on the first day back at work after vacation. All emails during this time will be automatically responded to with a message that the recipient is on vacation and not receiving emails, and the name, email address and telephone number of a designated substitute for the duration of the vacation.”
The last sentence, which seems to have upset lawyers the most, read: “We are proud to be taking a leadership role in caring about our colleagues’ quality of life.” This sentence seems to have particular upset staff members.
Realising that the prank had not gone down well, Wolf apologised to staff in both the London and New York offices in a second email later that day: “This email was the firm’s annual April Fools’ Day message and was intended to be humorous. We obviously got this wrong and we sincerely apologise.
“We know and appreciate the hard work that all of you do. We have and continue to take work-life balance serious and are always evaluating ways to improve the quality of life here, given the intensity and demands of the profession.”
So far, responses have ranged from “Weil is making a mockery of our hard work” to “April Fools! We don’t really care about you! Now get back to billing”. Others have seen the lighter side of the prank, realising that these emails are a yearly tradition by the partnership and accepting that working for a top law firm often mean big wages in exchange for longer hours.
Much of what has been written about this incident has been quite scathing, but these things are never black and white, so Lifestyles4Lawyers contacted Weil Gotshal to speak to them about the positive aspects of work-life balance that they promote. Unfortunately, as at the time of writing, they have declined to comment.
In a stress survey by Lawyer 2B in May 2014, almost 60 per cent of respondents said their senior managers encouraged employees to maintain a work-life balance. However, less than half of those felt their management was being sincere in making these claims.
Work-life balance is a massive issue in the 21st century, with lawyers glued to their phones when they are out of their offices, waiting for the next email or call – no matter what the time of day or night. There is a lot a of talk by the leading law firms that they are looking into how they can improve on this issue, but as the Lawyer 2B survey showed, most lawyers do not believe that their bosses are walking the walk.
So, was this just a misguided April Fools’ joke that went wrong, or does it hint at a bigger issue that law firms still do not take the health and wellbeing of their staff seriously?