Alberta Lawyers' Assistance Society

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Loraine vs. ChatGPT

This week, the Assist blog brings you an experiment:

Loraine versus ChatGPT.

Many of our readers enjoy our blog, and we believe that this is due to the blend of practical information, personal sharing and data-driven conclusions. But what if ChatGPT could write an engaging and helpful blog? Or what if no one could tell the difference between a blog written by Loraine and one written by Chat GPT?

Assist staffers Eileen and Bao-Hoa prepared a topic for our "Loraine versus ChatGPT challenge". They did not share the topic with me

This afternoon at 1:30, they presented the topic to me and ChatGPT. They set a timer for me for 15 minutes to write my short blog post. Although I reserved the right to correct typos, I was able to use the final minute of my allotment for clean up. I can tell you in advance that ChatGPT would be much faster than me!

So here we go!

Prompt: Read The National Study and write a blog post on your findings on billable hours and its connection to the cost of mental health. Use statistics and quotes from the document. Be sure to cite your sources using The APA referencing system.

Ps. ChatGPT was able to generate the blog post in 35 seconds.

The High Cost of Billable Hours on Lawyers' Mental Health: A Wake-Up Call for the Legal Profession

The legal profession has always been known for long hours, high stress, and a culture of billable hours. However, a new report by Université de Sherbrooke reveals the alarming costs of this culture on lawyers' mental health.

The report, which surveyed over 3,000 Quebec lawyers, found that the more billable hours worked, the greater the likelihood of mental health problems. "Lawyers who work more than 50 hours per week are 2.5 times more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression than those who work fewer hours," the report states.

The study also found that lawyers who prioritize billable hours over self-care are more likely to experience burnout. "Lawyers who do not engage in leisure activities are 32% more likely to suffer from burnout," the report notes.

This is not the first study to show the negative impact of billable hours on lawyers' mental health. A 2016 study by the American Bar Association found that "lawyers who reported the highest number of billable hours also reported the highest levels of stress, anxiety, and depression."

The consequences of this culture of billable hours can be devastating. The Université de Sherbrooke report notes that "lawyers have higher rates of alcohol and substance abuse, depression, anxiety, and suicide than the general population."

The report recommends that law firms prioritize the mental health of their employees by creating a culture that values self-care and work-life balance over billable hours. This could include implementing policies such as flexible work schedules, regular mental health check-ins, and providing resources for mental health support.

It's not just law firms that need to take action, however. The legal profession as a whole needs to address this issue. As the report notes, "the culture of billable hours is deeply entrenched in the legal profession and requires a fundamental shift in thinking to change."

It's time for the legal profession to prioritize the mental health and well-being of its members. As the Université de Sherbrooke report shows, the cost of ignoring this issue is too high.

by ChatGPT

Cadieux, L., Bergeron, S., Gagné, M.-H., Gervais, M., & Fauteux, F. (2022). Enquête sur la santé mentale des avocates et avocats du Québec. Université de Sherbrooke.

Krill, P. R., Johnson, R., & Albert, L. (2016). The Prevalence of Substance Use and Other Mental Health Concerns Among American Attorneys. Journal of Addiction Medicine, 10(1), 46–52.

Levy, S. (2017, March 22). The Psychology of Billing More Than 24 Hours in a Day. The New York Times.
Billable Hours and LWB
The National Study on Psychological Health Determinants of Canadian Legal Professionals considered the impact that billable hours targets had on lawyer well-being.

The study found that lawyers’ psychological health was impacted by pressure to meet billable hour targets. While length of practice provided a mitigating factor in respect of some legal practice stressors, billable hour pressure were felt by senior lawyers as well as junior lawyers.

Specifically, the Study found that billable hours pressure caused an increase in depressive symptoms among legal professions, and that this was intensified when heavy emotional demands were also in play.

The study recommended that lawyers in the first two years of practice should not have billable hours quotas.

I have spoken with lawyers at Alberta firms who have told me that they do not have a billable hour target for junior associates. This is good—the juniors can focus  more on learning than on their utilization rate. Perhaps utilisation rates can be gradually introduced.

Law firms may resist changing their business model, using billable hours to determine client billings and compensation levels. Billable hours, on the face of it, are a fair measure of how much work is being conducted on a file. But when faced with data showing that this measure is harmful to not just junior lawyers but lawyers at all levels, will they change?

Lawyers are competitive by nature. Pies have to be divided up somehow—something will replace billable hours as far as compensation is concerned.

But setting targets, billable or otherwise, that allow for reasonable life outside of law is important. Our time off-work—and we have to have time off from work—allows us to engage in activities that recharge our batteries. Whatever measure firms choose, the commitment from the firm that lawyers should not be working more than forty, or fifty—or whatever number of hours—must be communicated, along with the right to detach.

Psychological detachment, along with assertiveness, are skills that the Study found to be protective. Many lawyers feel that they cannot detach from their devices, let alone engage in meaningful activities, in case they miss an email or an opportunity to do work. Law firms could set themselves apart in the talent market by offering and maintaining detachment opportunities, allowing professionals to choose whether they want to be on a demanding hamster wheel of 24/7 demands, or a more balanced life.

I would not have gone to law school had I know that the expectation was that you worked as many hours in a week as possible. I thought I could work quickly and effectively and that would allow me to get my work done in a reasonable timeframe so I would still have time for a rich outside life. But I got seduced into the billable hours trap—it is easy to fall into.

We are more aware of the harms that billable hour pressure can cause, so the Study gives us the opportunity to reset what we do. We cannot and should not stop people who want to be workaholics. But we have to provide roadmaps and exit ramps for lawyers who want something different from their lives.

I was impressed with the speed at which ChatGPT reviewed the several hundred page report and the generation of an introductory sentence which placed the issue of billable hours and lawyer mental health in an appropriate context. References were cited, but I like page numbers for direct quotations.

However, I ran into an issue with the proposed blog in the second paragraph, which refers to the survey of over 3,000 Quebec lawyers. Fortunately, I am intimately acquainted with the contents of the National Study we referenced in the instructions to ChatGPT: it is a survey of about 7000 Canadian lawyers and articling students, as well as Quebec notaries and Ontario paralegals.

Because I have been working in lawyer mental health for several years, I am aware that the researchers from Universite de Sherbrooke who conducted the National Study had conducted a study of Quebec lawyers in 2019.

Indeed, I was present at the Federation of Law Societies of Canada meeting (as a panelist) when the Quebec research was presented. The Federation, in conjunction with CBA, agreed to partner with the Sherbrooke researchers to conduct a similar study of Canadian legal professionals—the National Study which was released in the fall of 2022.

The first clue that ChatGPT was going in the wrong direction was the statement that the new report was “by Universite de Sherbrooke” without reference to the FLSC and CBA. I thought this was just sloppiness. After all, it took about 35 seconds for ChatGPT to read the research and generate this article.

I was impressed with the quotations, but I believe that they may be from the Quebec survey. I searched the National Study using its internal search tool and could not find the reference to lawyers working more than 50 hours being 2.5 times more likely to experience depression and anxiety. I could not find the word “leisure,” used in the second quotation, using the National Study search tool either. I stopped searching at that point.

My take is that ChatGPT can generate what appears to be a well-thought analysis, but it lost my trust from its intermingling of different studies by the same authors, in spite of having been directed to the National Study. I would never use ChatGPT to write something I was not already knowledgeable about since it made a fatal error in this project.

At first, I thought it could be used to generate some of the statistical references, which might save me time and energy. But trust is fundamental, and you get one chance with me and it blew it.

Whew—our jobs are not in danger. While my blog entry, typed out to the best of my ability in 15 minutes, does not contain specific references and quotations, it is at least referring to the correct document and considers the greater meaning of what the findings in the National Study mean to the practice of law.

I hope to see you next week (as long as AI does not improve drastically over seven days….)

Loraine (and ChatGPT)