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Latest research: three-quarters of young lawyers say they fear professional ‘burnout’

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More money would help rectify work-life unbalance … along with fewer irritating clients

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More alarm bells have been sounded warning that junior lawyers are either contemplating topping themselves, or telling the senior partner to get stuffed before storming from the office and heading for a beachcombing life in remote South America.

The latest doomongering came yesterday from Manchester and London virtual law firm Gunnercooke, which claimed that nearly three-quarters of “legal professionals” think they might suffer from “chronic occupational stress, depression and anxiety”.

The firm gathers those conditions into the technical collective term of “burnout”, maintaining that long hours and irritating clients were driving especially young lawyers to distraction.

Other factors forcing lawyers to contemplate mixing a booze and sleeping pills cocktail were such crushing factors as “high levels of interruptions each day”, low pay, deadline pressure, a lack of autonomy, and a lack of authority.

Lawyers also moaned to the researchers that “strained working relationships with bosses, partners and other colleagues” were getting them down.

The survey — of a total of 1,000 solicitors of varying levels of seniority — found that junior lawyers (defined as those younger than 30) were particularly gloomy and “most worried about burnout”. However, once they hit young middle age, the outlook brightened.

“Those in the 30 to 40 age bracket were happiest and least concerned about burnout,” said the research team.

That team drilled down extensively into lawyer attitudes to work to find that their favourite time to be in the office was between eight and 10 o’clock in of a Friday morning. The least favourite time was after 5pm on Tuesdays.

Most respondents cited that old chestnut phrase of “work-life balance” as the factor that would most improve their existences, although there was no definition of the term.

That was followed by a keenness to do less administrative work, and then a desire for higher pay, a need to receive more recognition from colleagues.

Other factors lawyers cited as being part of an ideal world were having more interesting work and higher calibre clients (having to put up with intellectually inferior clients must be a real drag), a smaller workload, and greater autonomy.

Sarah Goulbourne, the commercial law specialist co-founder of Gunnercooke, said the research findings highlighted:

that fear of burnout is now rife within the legal profession, and the causes identified with unhappiness in today’s working environment are numerous.

The firm also wheeled out an academic to bolster the research’s scientific credibility.

Dr Sandi Mann, a senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Central Lancashire, commented:

High stress levels amongst employees should be a big concern for businesses as it could cause backlash — if employees aren’t healthy, the business won’t be either and so it is in an employer’s best interests to ensure and improve the psychological wellbeing of their staff.

Legal profession stress experts agreed that burnout is a big issue. “I am not surprised by these findings,” Elizabeth Rimmer, the chief executive of charity LawCare told Legal Cheek, continuing:

We know how real these issues are within the legal community from the calls to our helpline; 75% of our callers report stress as the reason for their call, with workload being the most common cause of this. The culture and practice of law makes it difficult to talk about stress and burnout openly. We need a culture shift in the legal profession to recognise and value wellbeing.

12 Comments

Anonymous

If you fear burnout, leave London.

(5)(6)

Anonymous

Sometimes that isn’t possible – what if you have a partner or spouse who works in London? Then you often need to have a difficult conversation or just continue doing a job that burns you out. Sometimes we carry on because even though the job is hard and stressful, we still genuinely love the fact that we do it.

I would certainly say that this matches my experience and those of my colleagues in similar positions.

(9)(2)

Anonymous

It’s also easy to forget that the problem is probably wider with our society than just the law firm model. Lawyers on the continent, for example, work hard and do high level work but tend not to experience the crushing hours and depression to the same extent. There are also millions of people outside of law and the City in the UK who work horrendous hours for far less money – loads of bartenders or call center workers are putting in 50 hours a week and barely scraping by, for instance.

We need to stop trying to be American and start trying to be European.

(24)(2)

Anonymous

Ur a fool.

(1)(4)

Anonymous

“Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”
— Samuel Johnson

(0)(3)

Anonymous

I loved my time in law but it wasn’t until I left that I really understood how much I had sacrificed. I didn’t really burn out as such, working too hard just became a norm, which looking back wasn’t right.

That was partly my own fault but the various firms I worked in had little ability or want to really improve the situation, and that was common place. The attitude was very much “you know what you let yourself in for when you joined, suck it up”.

Many firms say they are addressing these issues and implementing/trailing policies to improve employee well being, but so much of it is a lot of hot air said just to try and maintain internal and external PR, rather than actually wanting to solve the problem.

(5)(2)

Anonymous

Three-quarters of young lawyers say they fear it –
The other quarter is experiencing it.

(4)(0)

Anonymous

Twenty years at the Bar and I burnt out. Crappy legal aid rates and irritating clients were part of it, alongside the hopeless hours and crushing sense of responsibility. I now earn half as much and am twice as happy. More importantly, I’ve stopped looking for tall buildings to throw myself off. The only regret is that I was actually rather good at the old job, though everything tended to conspire to convince me that I wasn’t. Anyway, good riddance I say; there are plenty of law graduates who are prepared to flog themselves to death on the legal aid treadmill, so irritating clients will still have someone to irritate.

(3)(0)

Jimmy Hoffa's left shoe

Not Amused, is that you?

(1)(0)

Jimmy Hoffa's right shoe

No.

(0)(0)

Flog

Don’t be ashamed Not Amused, it’s fine you’re not at the bar no more.

(0)(0)

Just Flogged

Ok. I admit it.

(0)(0)

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