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

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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 leaver 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

43 Comments

Kirkland Lad

Nice to see the good folk of BLM working part time

Irwin Mitchell Partner

Have a life! Better than having your lambo driven by a consierge doing your Christmas shopping while you rot at work.

Kirkland NQ

Wow, nice example of jealousy there. Firstly, I’d never let a member of the service class within touchign distance of the lambo unless he has a squeegy and bucket in hand. Secondly, I can smash a PE deal anywhere, any time, including whilst shopping at Cartier for my model girlfriend’s christmas gift.

Anon

This is why the whole “MC for better work-life balance” falls down.

It is true that the MC have slightly fewer hours than the worst of the US shops. But, other than Slaughters, it’s a matter of half 8 vs 9.15ish. Partners, who have no interest in their families anyway, fail to comprehend that if you leave the office at half 8, with the average 30-45 minute commute in London, your evening is screwed anyway. Staying an extra half an hour on average wouldn’t change that, but you’d be paid lots more for the sacrifice.

This only becomes more so when you’re a senior associate, living out in the Home Counties, where anything after 7.30 means you‘ll just get home, eat and crash into bed.

Capacity Unit

Question the value of using averages alone here. We all know that there is a bigger pool of people at each of the MC firms compared to US firm offices in London. While some MC people are doing US firm hours, many are cruising as the size of those firms can support that type of approach. I would imagine the spread of hours is far greater for MC lawyers.

Re. US v MC firm hours – I found the key difference was not the hours, but the need to be available at the drop of a hat (holidays, weekends etc.). If you’re being beasted, you’d prefer to be paid what others in the market are receiving. However, the fact that you can never truly switch off (even in your supposed down time) is the real issue/difference.

MC ASS

Agreed. Also depends dramatically on practice area. If you’re in PE or leveraged finance you are going to be beasted no matter what firm you’re at so you may as well get paid for it. In a US firm you’re likely to also be beasted in more ‘advisory’ departments too though.

Kirk Boyz

“OtHeR tHaN sLauGhtErS”… there seems to be this misconception that Slaughter and May have better working hours compared to the other MC firms and this is complete load of rubbish. They like to make it seem like this because of the lack of billable hours but I can assure you their hours are equally as bad as any other Magic Circle firm. I know people who work there and they all have said the same thing.

It is interesting because there are many silver circle firms that are on similar hours to magic circle and it just makes you think how the lines are becoming blurred between Silver Circle, Magic Circle and American Firms. They are all working relatively similar hours for quite different salaries when you think about it.

Anon trainee

“OtHeR tHaN sLauGhtErS”… there seems to be this misconception that Slaughter and May have better working hours compared to the other MC firms and this is complete load of rubbish. They like to make it seem like this because of the lack of billable hours but I can assure you their hours are equally as bad as any other Magic Circle firm. I know people who work there and they all have said the same thing.

It is interesting because there are many silver circle firms that are on similar hours to magic circle and it just makes you think how the lines are becoming blurred between Silver Circle, Magic Circle and American Firms. They are all working relatively similar hours for quite different salaries when you think about it.

anon

Bro why did you copy the comment….

Anonymous

Those at shops at the top end of the list might be paid very handsomely, but damn, working 9 – 9 every day sounds unbelievably shit.

US NQ

Certainly for transactional departments a consistent 9-9 wouldn’t be normal – there are peaks and troughs. That’s why this list is largely useless.

Weil-E Coyote

I work at Weil and would add that whilst the hours can be sh*t, they’re definitely not consistently 9-9!

Depends entirely on which team you’re in and whether there’s a big matter on. I’ve had months of reasonable hours (say 6.30 – 7.30pm finishes?) punctuated by some absolute rogerings.

Anonymous

I never would have lasted as a City lawyer. When combined with a one hour-plus commute home, a 6:30/7:30 finish is still pretty terrible. It’s a good thing I did the BPTC and fucked my legal career up before even making it through any doors.

Anon

Alex? Is that you?

Anonymous

I think if I was a client I would be genuinely wondering about what I was getting for my money. A solicitor who is working from 9am to 9pm is not going to be doing quality work.

Come on

You can easily do quality work between 9 and 9 – you can do that and still get to the gym in the morning and get 8 hours sleep. Consistent 9 till midnight is a very different story.

Anonymous

Provided you don’t have children, a spouse or partner I presume?

Come on

It’s fine with a partner as long as they are sensible about it and you have your weekends free. Not so much with children, but in our office a lot of people with kids go home at 5.30/6 and log back on after the kids have gone to bed for a couple of hours.

Anonymous

Let’s do a time and motion study. I have assumed that the gym is 15 minutes away, that the workout lasts for 45 minutes, and that the commute lasts for an hour (which probably requires living in zones 1-3).

6.45am: leave home
7am: start the workout
7.45am: leave the gym
8am: start the commute
9am: arrive at work
9pm: leave work
10pm: arrive home (again assuming a one hour commute)

Assuming that you sleep for 8 hours, you have 45 minutes left over to:

(1) Cook and eat the evening meal
(2) Do any other tasks before going to bed (washing, admin etc.)
(3) Wake up, have a shower etc.
(3) Eat your breakfast
(4) Get dressed

Try doing all that in the space of 45 minutes.

Anonymous

Before my husband and I had kids, that’s close to what we did during the week except the gym was right across the street and workouts started at 6:30. So the schedule was usually something like:

6 am wake up
6:20 walk to gym
6:30-7:30 work out
7:30-8:15 shower and get ready for work
8:15-8:45 commute
8:45 pick up breakfast at work cafeteria to eat at my desk
9 sit down at desk and eat while reviewing morning emails
8 or 9 pm: leave work and stop and pick up takeout on the way home
8:30 or 9:30: get home and eat and then walk the dogs, visit with my husband for a bit and maybe watch a TV show or surf the Internet for a bit
10:30 or 11:30: bed

We had a maid service that cleaned our apartment every other week, a dog walker to walk the dogs during the day (husband isn’t a lawyer so his hours were more normal 8:30 or 9-5 or 5:30ish), and we did all the shopping on the weekend. Just never made plans to do anything during the week.

I spent four years doing that until we had our daughter, and made it about 9 months after maternity leave before I just couldn’t take it anymore. Because working all day, leaving “early” to get home by 7 pm to see my baby daughter, and then immediately having to log back on to do 2-3 hours at night. And by that point more weekend work was creeping in, too.

Yeah, the pay was fantastic, but the lifestyle was brutal. Now I’m at a smaller firm and considered part time, averaging 40 hours a week. It’s much more sustainable for the long term.

KS La

“Not our problem” is their very real view.

The client agrees to pay hundreds of pounds an hour and gets to dictate quality levels. Submitting sub-par work is simply not an option.

The firm can’t afford to lose the client but doesn’t want to put more bodies on a matter to maintain deal profitability. It is the firm’s decision to understaff the deal and rely on generally anal personalities and partners to do quality control.

It’s tough at the top

Lots of people working 8 til 7 at the top 40 to 100 firms and being paid 40/50 odd k for it so maybe it’s worth extra 100k.

Bob

Why do they all start work so late?

Anonymous

Because they worked so late the day before, circular reasoning really…

Bob

I work hard at the Sydney Bar. I start about 7am and finish about 7pm most days. Far more tolerable than these very late night finishes.

Amazed

7am start for a bar?! Wow they start drinking early in Australia!

KS Lamba

A number of Aussie colleagues have relayed similarly insanely earyl work starts. it’s bizarre.

Sleep is for the weak

Depends if you’re a morning or evening person and where your clients are based. I average 6 hours sleep a night and that goes down when right in the middle of a crazy deal patch, but can’t for the life of me stomach getting up at 6am no matter what time I went to bed.

Archibald Pomp O'City

“Because they worked so late the day before, circular reasoning really…”

In what way is this reasoning circular?

anonymous

Wtf is a Royds Withy King

Anon

You put it on your backside to stop bleeding.

Anonymagic

The only misleading figure for me is the arrival time.

Most transactional lawyers I know at “top” firms usually start a bit later, around 9.40-10.15 (this is especially true when the evening before has been a long one).

Can hardly believe, for example, that Lev Fin lawyers at Milbank are clocking in at 9.15 like some government employees!

Kirkland Lad

During a busy fundraising I am in the office for weeks on end well past 21:35. Not sure what Michelmores is or why we are being compared to it – thought Michelmore was an American singer.

Anonymous

The odd thing about the US hours culture, is they turn up for work so jolly late in the day. There is strange machismo about being in the office late in the day, and someone who works 7-7 is seen as less committed as someone who works 9.30-9.30.

Anonymagic

7-7… what are you, an equities trader?

One of the few “gifts” of being a commercial lawyer is the possibility to avoid inbound/outbound commute rush hours!

If the hours are the same, then the best option is the more comfortable one for sure!

Anonymous

Trainee at a US firm high on that list. These lists are meaningless. You have to erase the mindset of hourly work arrival and leave times when you are in a career like this. It’s a task-based mentality. Sometimes you are super busy with demanding client projects and have to work longer for whatever it takes. No different than uni where if you have a major essay deadline you have to put all your effort in. If you have nothing doing there’s no one forcing you to stay in the office. Leave time also varies a lot by practice area and how efficient you are with the tasks of work given. Certain practice areas like litigation and competition have more predictable work schedules while transactional seats are more based on variable client demand. The main difference with US firms is the smaller group of lawyers means you have more responsibility to do more creative legal work and run your own work streams from an early stage. You are treated as an adult and if you don’t have major meetings early that morning don’t have to come in until a bit later (in general). For the nature of the complex intellectually challenging work you’ll be involved you need to take your time and reflect, hence the longer hours. The hours are what it takes to complete everything you have on your plate not someone chaining your to a desk to stay. That’s why all these lists are meaningless.

time is a social construct

All that matters is that the client work is done. Hours are merely a social construct to get rid of the intellectually inept. I’ve not slept in days but my billables are glorious.

dissatisfied with rubish juniours

If you aren’t billing 100 hours a week, are you even a prestigious lawyer?

Anonymous

If are you billing 100 hours a week and you are not an equity partner you are a mug.

Anon

The worst part about some of the big name firms on this list is they write off roughly 40% of your work until you’re a senior associate (or whatever your firm calls it… “Managing Associate” etc). So you think your billables are great working 10-12 hour days 5 days a week plus the odd 3-5 hours on a weekend, but on review time they say more dedication is needed and you’ll be unlikely to receive a bonus, or only the bare minimum.

Or my favourite is when the paralegals working similar hours that would otherwise be entitled to overtime get shafted when OT is subject to partner approval: they work late on some partner’s presentation they are giving the next day, but it’s not billable work so they don’t approve paying OT. I know a few shops that still do this.

All of this was fine 25+ years ago when you only had to put up with the bullsh*t for 5 years before being made a junior (salary or lowest equity tier) partner, but now it’s 10+ years you have to put up with this nonsense in the City. The structure of the profession is broken.

Sandstorm

I instruct a number of firms on this list and cannot see how I am getting value from lawyers under this kind of burden. Also, I don’t want my advisers at work late (when I’m not) and not being at work earlier (when I am).

(And yes, I’ve done these sort of hours when I was at an MC firm and it is a quick route to a ruined household.)

Tits

In my advisory mc team 9 to 9 consistently is the norm. I havent left before 7 this year. Ive had quite a few 1ams too.

We are running at about 110 to 120% utilisation across our team though compared to 90% on average across corporate

Sweaty but ruthlessly efficient?

Can somebody explain how K&L Gates lawyers manage to leave at 7:20pm when their target hours are 2,088???

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