Revealed: Law firms’ average work from home start and finish times 2020-21

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Everything has changed over the past 12 months — but what about working hours for trainee and junior lawyers?

First-of-its-kind research undertaken by Legal Cheek has shed light on the average working from home start and finish times for trainee and junior lawyers.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this year’s top ten latest home-working finish times are all mega-paying US firms, while their smaller, national counterparts, boast some of the shortest days.

Having crunched the numbers our exclusive research reveals that on average, across all law firms, trainee and junior lawyers are working 10 hour and 18 minute workdays. Last year (and when lawyers could work in the office) the average across all law firms was slightly shorter at 10 hours and 15 minutes.

But despite lawyers spending the majority of this year working from home and with no daily commute to tackle, this has not translated to less time spent working. One US law firm’s rookies are burning the midnight oil 38 minutes longer than the previous year, while juniors at several national outfits report working around five to ten minutes more each day. The hours at most firms, however, remain relatively unchanged since the pandemic forced lawyers to work from home.

Topping this year’s list for late finish times is the London office of US-headquartered outfit Kirkland & Ellis, with rookies finishing up, on average, at 9:46pm. In joint second place is Cleary Gottlieb and Sidley Austin with an average finish time of 9:16pm. Rounding off the top three is Paul Hastings with an average finish time of 9:13pm.

At the other end of the list, BLM boasts the earliest average finish time at 5:31pm. The second earliest finish time is Fletchers at 5:39pm, followed by Hewitsons at 5:43pm.

So how does your firm fare? The results, ranked from latest to earliest average finish times, can be found 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 start times which vary widely.

Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2020-21 — average WFH start and finish times

Law firmAverage start timeAverage finish time
Kirkland & Ellis9:28am9:46pm
Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton9:29am9:16pm
Sidley Austin9:35am9:16pm
Paul Hastings9:29am9:13pm
Ropes & Gray9:38am9:09pm
Sullivan & Cromwell9:41am8:53pm
Weil Gotshal & Manges9:12am8:50pm
Shearman & Sterling9:18am8:44pm
Vinson & Elkins9:27am8:44pm
Debevoise & Plimpton9:28am8:40pm
Davis Polk & Wardwell9:36am8:39pm
Clifford Chance9:10am8:38pm
Willkie Farr & Gallagher9:32am8:34pm
Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer9:26am8:33pm
Gibson Dunn8:41am8:33pm
Jones Day8:47am8:32pm
Allen & Overy9:20am8:28pm
Covington & Burling9:12am8:22pm
Latham & Watkins9:26am8:20pm
White & Case9:18am8:17pm
Akin Gump9:05am8:10pm
Simmons & Simmons9:11am7:58pm
Herbert Smith Freehills9:17am7:54pm
Baker McKenzie9:17am7:50pm
Norton Rose Fulbright9:10am7:46pm
Mayer Brown9:01am7:38pm
Stephenson Harwood9:02am7:29pm
Slaughter and May9:15am7:27pm
Reed Smith9:19am7:26pm
Hogan Lovells9:06am7:25pm
Travers Smith9:14am7:25pm
Watson Farley & Williams9:11am7:23pm
Mishcon de Reya8:53am7:21pm
Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner9:07am7:20pm
Clyde & Co8:58am7:15pm
K&L Gates9:09am7:10pm
DLA Piper8:45am7:06pm
Bird & Bird9:04am7:05pm
Ince Gordan Dadds9:02am6:57pm
Wedlake Bell8:47am6:56pm
Charles Russell Speechlys8:46am6:55pm
Royds Withy King9:03am6:54pm
Gowling WLG8:55am6:53pm
Taylor Wessing9:03am6:49pm
Addleshaw Goddard8:46am6:48pm
Browne Jacobson8:48am6:47pm
Squire Patton Boggs8:43am6:47pm
Howard Kennedy9:03am6:44pm
Eversheds Sutherland8:50am6:42pm
Pinsent Masons8:51am6:41pm
Osborne Clarke8:55am6:40pm
Penningtons Manches8:46am6:37pm
Walker Morris8:30am6:37pm
Burges Salmon8:51am6:32pm
Farrer & Co9:00am6:31pm
Trowers & Hamlins8:47am6:30pm
DWF Group Plc8:41am6:24pm
DAC Beachcroft8:36am6:22pm
Hill Dickinson8:49am6:18pm
Mills & Reeve8:37am6:06pm
Bevan Brittan8:49am6:04pm
Foot Anstey8:35am5:58pm
Womble Bond Dickinson8:40am5:56pm
Irwin Mitchell8:32am5:51pm
Blake Morgan8:47am5:47pm
The 2021 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 law firm juniors.

“Many will think the hours are too long, but for those who enjoy (or are even obsessed with) the law, the opportunity to remain busy consistently is there. Expect to work. Rewards are given to those who have a penchant for a hard work ethic. If you are looking to work anywhere near ‘normal’ this is not the firm for you.”

“First seat was really good, generally leaving between 6 and 8, current seat was busy to begin with and was probably more like 8 to 10, I’ve not yet had to do more than an hour or so of work on a weekend (mainly to prepare for the next week or for something that I did not quite finish on Friday).”

“Regularly billing more than 100 hours a week. Normal finish time is midnight-2am. Probably an average of one all-nighter every two-three weeks.”

“Some weeks I am able to reliably make evening plans, and others I start to forget what my house looks like. In general, long hours are made easier by interesting work and great colleagues, and there is an expectation that if you are not busy you should get out of the office early.”

“There are busy periods where ‘life’ may take a backseat for a week or so, but in my experience, these are balanced out with quiet periods. Lack of face-time culture and targeted hours makes it much easier to enjoy these quiet periods and my peers/superiors have always encouraged me after a busy period to enjoy the quiet for a few days rather than feel guilty about not having as much to do as before.”

“In my experience the hours have been crushing. Kiss goodbye to your old friends, weekday social commitments, and your significant other.”

“The drive to increase profits year on year means that inevitably more needs to be squeezed out of less. Sometimes you are told that something ‘does not need to be done this evening’ yet because it is required for the next day, you end up completing the task late in the evening anyway.”

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

“This data backs up what we are picking up at LawCare from calls to our helpline, that despite working from home, lawyers are working longer hours, and are struggling to manage the boundary between work and home. Our concern is that more lawyers will be heading for burnout if firms don’t take active steps to monitor working hours and encourage staff to work healthy hours. The long hours culture in law undermines good mental health, and particularly in a tough year like this one, it’s so important that we have time to unwind, switch off and spend time doing the things that support our wellbeing. Prioritising mental health has never been so important.”

Feeling stressed or overwhelmed? You can contact LawCare here.

The 2021 Firms Most List – featuring the Legal Cheek Survey results in full

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