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

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By Jonathan Ames on

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


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.