Revealed: Law firms’ average arrive and leave the office times 2019-20

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By Aishah Hussain on

Who’s totting-up 12 hour workdays and who’s home in time for Tipping Point?

Joining the adrenaline-fuelled world of corporate law and working on megabucks deals for high-profile clients in swish offices with sizeable perks is the end goal for many a wannabe lawyer.

The trade-off, of course, are the hours.

Though they might be at their lowest level in four years — as we exclusively reported last week — solicitors’ workdays can vary by as much as four hours across the leading law firms in London and the UK.

This was one of the key findings from this year’s Legal Cheek annual average arrive and leave the office time survey of 2,500 trainees and junior associates at nearly 100 law firms.

It comes as little surprise that the top end of this year’s list is dominated by the London offices of US-headquartered outfits, with just one magic circle member featuring in the top ten. So-called ‘white-shoe’ firms are synonymous for having cultures where long working hours are considered to be the norm but have pretty swell moneylaw salaries to match.

The firm with the latest leave time is the London office of US outfit Kirkland & Ellis, where, according to our figures, rookies leave on average at 9:35pm. In second place is Cleary Gottlieb with an average leave time of 9:12pm, followed by Weil Gotshal in third position where the average leave time is 9:11pm — a minute earlier than their Cleary counterparts.

At the other end of the list is BLM, which boasts the earliest average leave time this year. Junior lawyers at the insurance-focused firm are typically out of the door by 5:30pm. The second earliest leave time is Hewitsons at 5:43pm and Irwin Mitchell comes in at third with an average leave time of 5:49pm. All three firms are headquartered outside London, in Manchester, Cambridge and Sheffield respectively, which is true for the most part of the earlier leave timers. Nab a TC at one of these firms and you could be home to catch the credits of Tipping Point!

So how does your firm fare? The results, ranked from latest to earliest average leave the office time, are below. These timings will, of course, fluctuate according to which department juniors are working in, billing targets or the ebb and flow of a deal. Note also the arrival times which vary widely.

Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2019-20 — average arrive and leave times

Law firm Average arrive time Average leave time
Kirkland & Ellis 9:28am 9:35pm
Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton 9:38am 9:12pm
Weil, Gotshal & Manges 9:12am 9:11pm
Milbank 9:18am 9:06pm
Jones Day 8:54am 9:03pm
Latham & Watkins 9:33am 8:59pm
Paul Hastings 9:36am 8:59pm
Ropes & Gray 9:28am 8:59pm
Vinson & Elkins 9:25am 8:51pm
Allen & Overy 9:25am 8:43pm
Clifford Chance 9:22am 8:42pm
Debevoise & Plimpton 9:38am 8:41pm
Freshfields 9:24am 8:41pm
Shearman & Sterling 9:26am 8:36pm
Sullivan & Cromwell 9:41am 8:35pm
Sidley Austin 9:26am 8:29pm
Akin Gump 9:21am 8:27pm
Linklaters 9:12am 8:23pm
Covington & Burling 9:12am 8:22pm
White & Case 9:21am 8:18pm
Skadden 9:24am 8:14pm
Mayer Brown 9:09am 8:13pm
Simmons & Simmons 9:07am 8:00pm
Baker McKenzie 9:14am 7:58pm
Ashurst 9:17am 7:56pm
Macfarlanes 8:57am 7:53pm
Norton Rose Fulbright 9:15am 7:51pm
Dechert 8:52am 7:47pm
Herbert Smith Freehills 9:18am 7:47pm
Stephenson Harwood 8:59am 7:43pm
Mishcon de Reya 8:51am 7:39pm
Reed Smith 9:12am 7:36pm
Orrick 9:05am 7:35pm
Travers Smith 9:18am 7:32pm
CMS 9:04am 7:31pm
Hogan Lovells 9:15am 7:29pm
Dentons 8:57am 7:24pm
Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner 9:08am 7:22pm
Watson Farley & Williams 9:25am 7:21pm
HFW 9:09am 7:20pm
K&L Gates 9:13am 7:20pm
Slaughter and May 9:22am 7:14pm
DLA Piper 8:38am 7:10pm
Withers 8:43am 7:09pm
RPC 9:02am 7:06pm
Bird & Bird 9:17am 7:03pm
Addleshaw Goddard 8:40am 7:00pm
Squire Patton Boggs 8:50am 6:58pm
Howard Kennedy 9:07am 6:52pm
Ince Gordan Dadds 9:08am 6:52pm
Clyde & Co 9:02am 6:51pm
Taylor Wessing 9:01am 6:50pm
Wiggin 8:55am 6:50pm
Fladgate 8:43am 6:49pm
Trowers & Hamlins 8:54am 6:49pm
Gowling WLG 8:59am 6:48pm
Browne Jacobson 8:48am 6:47pm
Eversheds Sutherland 8:50am 6:47pm
Fieldfisher 9:24am 6:47pm
PwC 9:18am 6:47pm
Wedlake Bell 9:00am 6:47pm
Charles Russell Speechlys 8:50am 6:46pm
Pinsent Masons 8:54am 6:46pm
Bristows 8:59am 6:45pm
Penningtons Manches Cooper 8:56am 6:45pm
Forsters 8:58am 6:41pm
Walker Morris 8:43am 6:40pm
Burges Salmon 8:55am 6:39pm
Osborne Clarke 8:55am 6:39pm
Kennedys 8:43am 6:32pm
Gateley 8:35am 6:29pm
Farrer & Co 9:02am 6:27pm
Ashfords 8:42am 6:23pm
Hill Dickinson 8:49am 6:22pm
Shoosmiths 8:35am 6:22pm
DAC Beachcroft 8:25am 6:18pm
VWV 8:55am 6:15pm
DWF Group Plc 8:37am 6:13pm
Bevan Brittan 8:30am 6:12pm
Womble Bond Dickinson 8:39am 6:11pm
TLT 8:38am 6:10pm
Blake Morgan 8:50am 6:02pm
Mills & Reeve 8:45am 6:02pm
Foot Anstey 8:35am 5:58pm
Weightmans 8:39am 5:54pm
Royds Withy King 8:48am 5:53pm
Thrings 8:40am 5:52pm
Michelmores 8:31am 5:51pm
Irwin Mitchell 8:31am 5:49pm
Hewitsons 8:37am 5:43pm
BLM 8:32am 5:30pm
The 2020 Firms Most List – featuring the Legal Cheek Survey results in full

As part of the survey we also received hundreds of anonymous comments about working hours. Here are a selection of quotes from US firm and magic circle rookies.

“The reality is that working for more or less any City law firm is not going to be a 9-5 affair. Although anecdotal, my experience seems to have been better than many friends in magic/silver circle firms, and hours, as always, are often practice group dependent. Nonetheless, 9-7pm is a quiet day, you will generally expect to be ordering a firm subsidised Deliveroo at least once or twice a week and, although generally only interrupted when necessary, weekends are in no way sacred.”

“Hours have ranged from ‘what is daylight’ to ‘I am as busy and as valuable to this firm as a desk-plant’.”

“Long hours, little sleep, burning the 2am oil. Assume you cannot make plans from Monday to Thursday (and some unlucky Fridays). Some teams (more so advisory teams) have more relaxed hours and deadlines where you have more control over your time.”

“What is ‘life’? Brutal hours are an understatement, small intake (particularly when you are the only trainee on a case/deal) makes this deadly.”

“As a US firm, we run a lot leaner deal times so if you’re coming up against a deadline, it’s all hands on deck for at least a week or two. Whilst it can be common to stay past 10pm/11pm during peak times, at others hours are reasonable (around 6pm/7pm) and I’ve rarely had to work weekends. Perhaps the toughest part is the ‘always available’ culture — you’re expected to answer calls at ungodly hours or on days off — but hey, that’s what they pay you for.”

We put the results of the survey to LawCare, the mental health and wellbeing charity for lawyers. Its chief executive, Elizabeth Rimmer, commented:

“We are pleased to see the hours junior lawyers spend at work has gone down this year. The heavy workload and long hours culture in the law can be detrimental to good mental health — we need time to relax, recover and see friends and family — these are not simply nice to have but essential for wellbeing. We would encourage lawyers to look after themselves mentally and physically in order to be at their best at work and at home and to prevent stress, anxiety and depression. Happy lawyers are better lawyers.”

Feeling stressed or overwhelmed? You can contact LawCare here.

The 2020 Firms Most List – featuring the Legal Cheek Survey results in full