Junior lawyers open up about stress

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Challenges of the job becoming less of a taboo


Stats from charity LawCare reveal that young lawyers and trainees are feeling the stresses and strains of the profession at an early stage of their careers — but at least they are talking about it.

Last year, of the 496 callers who reached out to LawCare — a charity set up in 1997 to help lawyers curb their stress-related problems — 39% were trainees or had been qualified five years or less.

The most common topic of discussion was workplace stress, which accounted for 30% of the calls made in 2015. Second to that was depression, totting up 20% of calls. Disciplinary issues came in at third (12%), financial problems fourth (5%), and alcohol fifth (4%).

Stress in the profession is a niggling problem that just won’t seem to go away — and even seems to be getting worse. A 2012 survey by LawCare — which is staffed by volunteers, themselves lawyers — found that 50% of the 1,000 lawyers questioned felt stressed. When the Law Society interviewed 2,226 solicitors in 2013, this figure almost doubled to 95%.

The problem spans the entire profession. Just last week, Legal Cheek reported that the pressure even gets to judges, no doubt at the very top ranks of the profession

But it’s the young lawyers that seem to be taking a disproportionate hit. You might think it’d take a few years for the stress to really kick in. But behind the façade of long lunches, power and prestige, the stress of working in a law firm can really take its toll on unsuspecting trainees and NQs.

Even the City hotshots aren’t immune. Indeed, they are arguably among the most exposed.

In the era of the ‘billable hour’, City lawyers are under constant pressure to reach their yearly targets, set at around 1,600 hours. Add in all the time spent doing non-billable tasks — admin, for example — you’re looking at about 10-11 hours a day in the office. In busier periods, 10-11 hour days seem a distant luxury.

Speaking to the Guardian back in 2011, one former magic circle lawyer sums up how bad it can get:

One Sunday morning as I was eating breakfast I got a call from my boss asking me to come in immediately. I worked that day until 1am, then went home for some sleep. I was back in at 7am on Monday, working through until 6am on Tuesday. At that point I got three hours’ sleep at the office, before starting work again at midday and continuing right through until 7am on Wednesday — when, thank God, the deal closed.

The demanding nature of the job has been well documented by corporate firm RPC on its very honest Twitter account @LifeinaLawFirm.

This sort of openness — which is far from the norm — is helping the issue of long hours and stress become less of a taboo at law firms. At the bar, however, the self-employed nature of practice can leave barristers burdened.

Though the majority (57%) of LawCare callers in 2015 were solicitors, barristers made up a disproportionate number at 19%.

Perhaps it’s not surprising. One barrister succinctly summed up the profession’s innate difficulties when he told us:

Many jobs today involve information overload or unrealistic deadlines but few entail the performative difficulties of being on your feet in a highly pressured court environment often grappling with profoundly distressing situations or heavy expectations.

Last year, the Bar Council published its first ever ‘Wellbeing at the Bar’ report — and it makes predictably gloomy reading.

Of the 2,456 barristers surveyed, 86% admit to feeling nervous, anxious or on edge at least sometimes. 97% tend to be very critical of themselves sometimes or more, 22% answering “all the time”. Yet 63% agree or strongly agree that if they do show signs of stress at work, it indicates weakness.

So it seems that LawCare — as a completely confidential service — provides a safehaven for long suffering stressed out advocates that don’t know who else to turn to.

These sentiments are echoed by a number of practising barristers. One told us:

The dichotomy of the bar is that, while there’s a great collegiate spirit, there are also many practitioners who carry heavy burdens in silence, and don’t feel there is anyone they can turn to. The LawCare helpline sounds eminently sensible to me.

Another commented:

LawCare is not a charity that any barrister expects or wants to call upon but for those that do it is an essential service.

Leanne Maund, a solicitor at Eversheds‘ Nottingham office and chair of the Junior Lawyers Division (JLD), also gives a big thumbs up to the work done by LawCare. She told Legal Cheek about the positive impact that the charity has had on young lawyers. She explained:

The JLD has received positive reports from our members about the support they have received from LawCare. Junior members of the profession can sometimes lack the confidence to raise issues of stress with their employer for fear of repercussion and therefore the services provided by LawCare are particularly useful to those in the early stages of their career.

The work done by LawCare should no doubt be applauded. The fear is, of course, that the calls received by the helpline may well only be the tip of the iceberg.

You can contact LawCare here.



Work is stressful. Glad we cleared that one up.


Kuzka's Mother

Whoever would’ve thought working as a solicitor in the City would be stressful!



The guy putting together bundles on a Friday night looks like he’s having a great time.



To be fair, fuck this guy.


Not Amused

The last time I checked, adults run their own lives.

If people want to give their money to this charity then that’s absolutely fine. If however it receives any money either from government or from a regulator then that’s an inappropriate waste of tax.

Eternal empathy is just a license for people to act in destructive ways and never fix their life. If people do not like being a lawyer then they can quite easily stop. If they find the MC too demanding, they can even change the type of lawyer they are.

It used to be said that an American has a psychiatrist and an Englishman has friends. I do not see the justification for organisations like this. Of course we can all get stressed from time to time; but you can either cope with it or you can’t. It’s not immediately clear why ‘lawcare’ is a helpful part of that process.

Young people considering either profession should genuinely think through these reports. Working in law, particularly the higher up you get, is extremely hard. Much like being a professional sports person or indeed succeeding at anything in life. GCSEs are stressful. A levels are stressful. Your degree was stressful. Getting a job is stressful. You need to have developed a way of coping with stress by now. If you genuinely find you can not then that is fine. What is pernicious and wrong is anyone who suggests those who consciously choose low stress jobs have failed. They haven’t. They have made a conscious and logical choice and should be applauded.

Your life is short – do not let someone life it for you. But also don’t engage in self indulgent practices if you have problems – solve the problem instead.


Wankers Incoming

Typical Tory mentality – let’s squeeze off and tourniquet that bleeding, suffering arm, even though it already seems to be turning black. You’d mortgage your own asshole if it could bring you a tidy profit.

I despair what will the country turn into with fanatic heartless geezers like yourself at the helm.



I agree with Not Amused.

While Lawcare may give any given caller a warm feeling, knowing that someone is taking the time to listen to their complaints, what does it really achieve? If you are stressed, it will take more than a phone call with a stranger to sort that out. Combatting it is likely to instead instead require genuine introspection, and a facing up to the possibility that what you thought you wanted to do doesn’t actually suit you (and all that possibility entails).


Just Another Person

I must say Not Amused, I normally find your posts incredibly interesting, but I definitely disagree with you here.

Empathy is not a waste of tax money. So many ways in which tax money has been being used, such as individuals getting cosmetic surgery on the NHS which they definitely don’t need, immigrants/Uk nationals alike who won’t work being put up in luxurious London accommodation (instead of what is merely necessary)… Individuals like George Osborne’s fashion stylist being paid ridiculous amounts… the list does go on. Heck, I remember reading something about the Government spending £3m on biscuits a few years ago.

On top of all those expenses, you think it’s a waste of money to provide some mental support to people who are stressed? People who may love their job and definitely don’t want to quit but are having a temporarily tougher time for whatever reason? You have no idea what could be happening at home for them, office could be particularly stressful…

Would your advice to someone who has been a lawyer for years and is starting to feel stressed out temporarily seriously be to just quit as they’re not cut out for it?

I think there is so much here that you have just not thought about before claiming that it’s a waste of money to provide someone with mental support that could save their career, or even their lives.


Not Amused

If tax money is spent on this (by regulators of government) then it is obviously a waste – other examples of waste are also bad.

Let’s not waste money. We need it to do things like help the poor.



You’re foul. Get outta here.



I think NA is human – if he were a duck or goose he would have trouble typing.



You funny little kunt.



People like you are the problem. It’s more senior lawyers who are set on the ‘well this is all shit and depressing and that’s the way it is so tough’ attitude. There’s plenty of other countries where lawyers work hard but don’t get anything like as raw a deal.

I suspect that it’s partly because of the race to the bottom in terms of money>life. Ultimately, we all get the £’s in our eyes when a firm offers us £20k more to go there but many don’t consider that the hours and pressure will be even worse – they can usually afford to pay that by understaffing matters.

It doesn’t have to be like this. Your attitude leads to depression and alcoholism, while normal peoples’ attitudes are to consider what we can do to help people through tough times.





Not not not Amused

I only came here to peruse Not Amused’s reaction to this. Needless to say I was not disappointed.


Not not not Amused

Or amused.



What an ignorant comment, Not Amused.



NA’s frequent lengthy commenting on LC (pretty much every article) suggests that he has an abundance of free time and has absolutely no idea what it is like to be slammed at work, chasing impossible deadlines and working late into the night to the detriment of his personal relationships. He may well never have felt trapped in a job in order to keep paying the rent, get qualified and/or get the experience necessary to jump off the conveyor and land somewhere soft.

To be blunt, a training contract is a two year commitment no matter how bad a time you’re having, given the black mark dropping out has on your career. Not doing an NQ job is also a black mark, as it suggests you weren’t good enough as a trainee. It’s unsurprising that the stress is primarily felt at the sub-5 year PQE, as these lawyers have the least control over their workloads and lives and are most likely to be serving time until they can get a decent in-house job. Careers for young lawyers (I’m 3 years PQE) often feel like climbing up an ice wall. One slip, and you’re done.

These moments pass and I’m fortunately in a very good place where hopefully those days are behind me but they are horrible when they come (if you’re reading this and you’re in that spot- it will be ok, eventually)

The mental health issues arising from this environment are very real and a funded helpline a valid mechanism for helping people to cope with stress. A sneering dismissal of such things does those who need it (and NA’s own credibility as a regular LC dispenser of wisdom) no favours.



what a tremendous wanker u are NA



Gargantuan cock, even.



where’s GreengrocerCare?



Where are all the stressed greengrocers?



Productive steps are being taken to address stress at the Bar as well, particularly the Junior Bar. A lot more could be done, as the culture is extremely unhealthy in relation to attitudes to work. The worst thing is that everyone recognises it, but no one does anything about it.


Not Amused

I don’t think anything of the sort.

What you are experiencing if “everyone recognises it, but no one does anything about it” is called British politeness. It means you rant at them for a few minutes. They say “oh dear that’s terrible” and do not mean a word they said. You wrongly interpret that as people caring.



I’m slightly concerned that some of the commentators seem to think that empathy serves no practical function. A stress response is the body’s way of revving up to deal with the host of demands being placed upon it. And all of us in this profession – if we are doing our jobs properly – tend to experience it fairly regularly. What matters is how we deal with it. If we believe that anyone who admits to stress is weak, a failure or in the wrong profession we are likely to encourage those who experience it to hide it from themselves and others, with the result they’re more likely to make mistakes in good old British Splendid Isolation than recognise when they’re overloaded and asking for help before they do. If we recognise and reassure our people that feeling stressed and overloaded is absolutely normal, we can then focus on ways of making sure it doesn’t stop us working effectively whilst hanging onto our sanity. But whilst one’s career depends on pretending we’re stress free and cultivating a stiff upper lip (“Matron took Mr Biggles away, and it never did me any harm”) , we’re wasting a lot of emotional energy trying to persuade ourselves and others that everything’s fine – when it isn’t – and we’re certainly going to need confidential avenues like this to provide an outlet for honest and helpful stress problem-solving. Keep up the good work, I say.


Stressed City Lawyer

Matron DID take Mr Biggles away. That’s why I still wet the bed at 42…


Viscount Dilhorne

Presumably NA thinks that the Samaritans are a bunch of ineffectual busy-bodies…

What a cretin.


Blunt Realist

I trained at a noted US firm, and honestly at times I was close to packing it in. Stress was how I would describe it at the better times, misery at the worst. Being a trainee when you have an unsupportive supervisor, things aren’t going well or you’re doing pants work is not an enjoyable experience.

I found the lack of empathy from others quite sad at the time, and now a few years on I make a real effort to be approachable and supportive to the trainees at my firm. I am in the minority as an associate- the majority view is that we all went through it and hated it, so should they. That is exactly the kind of attitude that causes not just workplace stress, but people to be miserable for no greater purpose. Thing have got better for me, but it took some moving and difficult decisions.

If every fee earner sat there and thought “does this really need doing right now?” before dumping a load of work on a junior that will take out their evening/weekend, city law would be a much better vocation. Nothing aside from an unhealthy culture and a wish to impose their own crappy experience on others really prevents it. People often wail about client demands, but if the truth be known I’ve found most are far less time pushy than is generally claimed.


shadowy figure

whoever runs that twitter account seems to be doing some serious arse licking. what happened to attitudes of deep cynicism, mistrust and anger towards one’s employers. this peppy culture is just awful


Philip Horatio

Thing is, admitting that you are stressed/ can’t cope is a sign of weakness that will have you marked down/ sacked ASAP. If “everyone else” is apparently able to cope with long hours, minimal sleep, being treated as a robot, then the problem is with you, not the firm.

Also, many city firms will make the point that no-one is forcing you to work there and the remuneration and opportunities later on have to be earned.

My sympathy is for those working 6 days per week at Legal Aid crime firms, also getting out of bed in the middle of the night to deal with arrested clients, all for peanuts pay.



These kids are just soft.


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