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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 firm Average start time Average finish time
Kirkland & Ellis 9:28am 9:46pm
Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton 9:29am 9:16pm
Sidley Austin 9:35am 9:16pm
Paul Hastings 9:29am 9:13pm
Ropes & Gray 9:38am 9:09pm
Millbank 9:32am 9:01pm
Sullivan & Cromwell 9:41am 8:53pm
Weil Gotshal & Manges 9:12am 8:50pm
Shearman & Sterling 9:18am 8:44pm
Vinson & Elkins 9:27am 8:44pm
Debevoise & Plimpton 9:28am 8:40pm
Davis Polk & Wardwell 9:36am 8:39pm
Clifford Chance 9:10am 8:38pm
Willkie Farr & Gallagher 9:32am 8:34pm
Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer 9:26am 8:33pm
Gibson Dunn 8:41am 8:33pm
Jones Day 8:47am 8:32pm
Allen & Overy 9:20am 8:28pm
Linklaters 9:08am 8:26pm
Covington & Burling 9:12am 8:22pm
Latham & Watkins 9:26am 8:20pm
White & Case 9:18am 8:17pm
Skadden 9:24am 8:11pm
Akin Gump 9:05am 8:10pm
Simmons & Simmons 9:11am 7:58pm
Ashurst 9:17am 7:54pm
Herbert Smith Freehills 9:17am 7:54pm
Baker McKenzie 9:17am 7:50pm
Orrick 8:11am 7:48pm
Dechert 9:09am 7:46pm
Norton Rose Fulbright 9:10am 7:46pm
Macfarlanes 9:02am 7:45pm
Mayer Brown 9:01am 7:38pm
Stephenson Harwood 9:02am 7:29pm
Slaughter and May 9:15am 7:27pm
Reed Smith 9:19am 7:26pm
Hogan Lovells 9:06am 7:25pm
Travers Smith 9:14am 7:25pm
Dentons 9:02am 7:24pm
HFW 9:13am 7:24pm
Watson Farley & Williams 9:11am 7:23pm
Wiggin 8:54am 7:23pm
CMS 8:54am 7:22pm
Mishcon de Reya 8:53am 7:21pm
Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner 9:07am 7:20pm
Clyde & Co 8:58am 7:15pm
K&L Gates 9:09am 7:10pm
Withers 8:44am 7:07pm
DLA Piper 8:45am 7:06pm
Bird & Bird 9:04am 7:05pm
RPC 9:10am 7:05pm
Ince Gordan Dadds 9:02am 6:57pm
Wedlake Bell 8:47am 6:56pm
Charles Russell Speechlys 8:46am 6:55pm
Royds Withy King 9:03am 6:54pm
Gowling WLG 8:55am 6:53pm
Bristows 8:56am 6:49pm
Taylor Wessing 9:03am 6:49pm
Addleshaw Goddard 8:46am 6:48pm
Browne Jacobson 8:48am 6:47pm
Squire Patton Boggs 8:43am 6:47pm
Ashfords 8:49am 6:45pm
Fladgate 8:46am 6:45pm
Howard Kennedy 9:03am 6:44pm
Eversheds Sutherland 8:50am 6:42pm
Pinsent Masons 8:51am 6:41pm
Osborne Clarke 8:55am 6:40pm
PwC 9:03am 6:38pm
Penningtons Manches 8:46am 6:37pm
Walker Morris 8:30am 6:37pm
Accutrainee 8:56am 6:35pm
Fieldfisher 8:54am 6:35pm
Burges Salmon 8:51am 6:32pm
Farrer & Co 9:00am 6:31pm
Trowers & Hamlins 8:47am 6:30pm
TLT 8:55am 6:28pm
Kennedys 8:46am 6:25pm
DWF Group Plc 8:41am 6:24pm
Gateley 8:38am 6:23pm
DAC Beachcroft 8:36am 6:22pm
Forsters 8:52am 6:22pm
VWV 8:56am 6:20pm
Hill Dickinson 8:49am 6:18pm
Thrings 8:31am 6:18pm
Shoosmiths 8:35am 6:11pm
Weightmans 8:40am 6:10pm
Mills & Reeve 8:37am 6:06pm
Bevan Brittan 8:49am 6:04pm
Foot Anstey 8:35am 5:58pm
Womble Bond Dickinson 8:40am 5:56pm
Michelmores 8:32am 5:54pm
Irwin Mitchell 8:32am 5:51pm
Blake Morgan 8:47am 5:47pm
Hewitsons 8:37am 5:43pm
Fletchers 8:18am 5:39pm
BLM 8:34am 5:31pm
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

37 Comments

Anonymous

Why do they all start so late?

(17)(6)

FlourPour

Because they worked so late. It used to annoy me so much in banking when people would mess about buying coffee and chucking balls around till 10:30am then keep us in the office past 8pm to deal with the day’s work.

And often you won’t be recognised for starting early because no one’s in to recognise it! Even more so since wfh started. I prefer to get up and out and start at 7am so I can leave at 6pm and have an evening. If you do this at most firms people will ask why you’re unresponsive in the evening…

Annoyingly, it’s often the culture in corporate firms and it has survived into the wfh era because people just stuff a run or yoga (or sleep) in before they start the day.

(53)(1)

Jane

Yes, when I set up on my own in the 90s I always started as early as I could. Even now I like to be at my desk not long after 7. Then by 9.30 you have got a lot done with no interruptions. I am also much brighter and do better work early on when I am not tired.

(6)(2)

FlourPour

K&E – 12 hours crunched over your desk with only the occasional break for coffee and IBS relief. The meme accounts will call me a wimp but I hope prospective lawyers know that the extra 40 grand per year comes at a very high price and most decide that they would rather have friends and their sanity instead..

(70)(5)

Anon

Sounds like the 100 hour weeks may be hailing from KE. I can understand billing 80 hour weeks but consistent 100 hour weeks sounds inflated – or is it truly that terrible?

(16)(0)

US 2nd yr

If you billed 100 hour weeks for a year you’d hit 5,200 hours . I don’t think many K&E (London) lawyers would bill >2,500 hours per year.

(8)(1)

Non-US Trainee

Agreed. I can’t confess to being at a US firm myself but have a few friends that are (incl. K&E) and understand that most associates bill 2,000-2,500 hours per year. Hardly enjoyable but not quite enough to reach consistent 100 hour weeks as suggested.

(4)(1)

Sick and Tired

– “regularly” means regularly, not “every week for an entire year”. It could mean two weeks out of a month, it could mean one or two recent busy months.

– “billing” vs “working” are two different things, although sometimes used interchangeably – you might work 400 hours a month and bill 300.

– time gets written off by partners, and some hours billed will go on BD and training. 2800 hours might get billed, 200 might be on BD, pro Bono, training and 600 might get written off, leaving you with 2000 billable. Yes, associates miss out on bonuses because of partner write offs.

– top of the table looks about right to me, with the exception of Sidley, which does not generally take advantage and beast their trainees needlessly as cheap labour unlike the others up there at the top. Not a compliment to Sidley, but a criticism of the others right at the very top of that table.

PourFlour

Working long hours shouldn’t be a badge of honour and I don’t disagree with your general point.

However, the supposed “trade-off” only makes sense if you are talking K&E/US vs a regional outfit (where the salary differences are more like 60-70k base) rather than US vs MC.

There is an element of unreliability with these figures (e.g. sample size or taking averages for what is often unpredictable work), but based on what is published here, the top 10 busiest firms (US) finish anywhere from around 9 – 10pm vs the MC at around 8:30pm. That’s only 30 min – 90 min more work per day (less so when you see that the MC start work around 15 – 30 min earlier).

The slightly less workload at MC doesn’t exactly let you have friends/your sanity either and it’s more like a 50k – 60k pay gap (once you factor proper bonuses at US firms – without even getting into the special covid bonuses some paid out) rising exponentially after the NQ level. E.g. The NQ rate at K&E is 10k higher than a 6PQE senior associate at one of the MCs so you can only imagine how much more the 6PQE associate at K&E is getting.

(20)(1)

Hooray Henry

>The NQ rate at K&E is 10k higher than a 6PQE senior associate at one of the MCs so you can only imagine how much more the 6PQE associate at K&E is getting.

Yes, perfectly true, but the flip side is retention figures. Far fewer people make it to 6PQE somewhere like K&E than at an MC firm, so it isn’t really that comparable

(7)(3)

Anon

Not sure that’s entirely correct. Yes, there’s a huge amount of turnover at US firms but the same can be said at MC. Arguably more so as those that don’t mind the already bad hours would rather get paid more, whereas those that don’t like the hours are happier to take a marginal dip in pay for an improved wOrk LiFe bAlAnCE. Hence the significant exodus of associates around 3 years PQE.

(1)(1)

Slaughter and May

Now Foot Anstey and below on the list can stop pretending they work hard

(5)(9)

4400 billables a year

my average 100 hour billable week liefstyl3 is lad-gendary!!!

(2)(0)

Anon

Nobody dies wishing they had spent more time in the office

(27)(0)

Baller

No but some people die wishing they had not lived a life of peasantry.

(7)(10)

Anon

Or that they had never gone to Durham.

(11)(4)

US 2nd yr

Start and finish times are a lot less relevant now in the WFH era and working hours feel a lot more flexible (subject of course to your workload at the time). I do not resent doing a bit of work late in the evening (even if I’ve ‘logged off’ for the day) or doing a few hours at the weekend any more whereas in usual times it can be a right pain in the arse when you’re blindsided at these times.

I’ve found that on some days if I fancy waking up early to bosh out a few hrs work before emails start coming in, that is also an option that would have probably been more difficult before / would have been more painful getting into the office for a 7am start. This can be really handy during busy transactions as it takes the pressure off during the day.

(9)(5)

wOrkLiFebAlAnCE

Imagine being so unbelievably deluded that you think the >50k a year pay cut with working at Bakers/Simmons compared to L&W is justified through working about 15-20min less per day, based on these figures. Moronic

(42)(4)

Anon

Can I suggest another table that takes average salary (or NQ salary as a proxy) and divides by hours worked in this table (agree with others comments that start / finish is less relevant than just how many hours working in this WFH environment)

(13)(0)

Trainee at a US Law Firm

I can only laugh at lists like this.

(1)(0)

Bob Doll

Leave times are so unreliable as work / deal flows fluctuate so much. I would be much more interested to see a comparison between recorded annual/ monthly/ weekly/ whatever chargeable hours per firm (I.e not target hours but actual recorded hours per person).

(11)(2)

wOrkLiFebAlAnCE

Mate, it’s obviously an average. Did you really think that all Skadden associates at 8.11pm get up from their desks in unison and leave the office like some sort of cult, descending upon Canary Wharf tube station in their masses.

(7)(4)

wOrkLiFebAlAnCE

I’m being censored by legal cheek – end this tyranny

(1)(1)

wOrkLiFebAlAnCE

It’s obviously an average. Did you really think that all Skadden associates get up at 8.11pm from their desks in unison like some sort of cult, descending upon Canary Wharf tube station in their masses?

(5)(1)

Anonymous

They are dull soulless drones, so the massed leaving time hypothesis is not that fanciful.

(6)(0)

Anon

How on earth do LC calculate these times so precisely? where do they get the data?

(2)(1)

I bill therefore I am

It’s amazing how keen some people are to start working in the morning for relatively irrelevant firms.

There’s absolutely no way BLM or IM pay enough to justify starting before 9:30, never mind working a ~9 hour day. You can see why so many of their associates’ CVs are floating around.

(0)(2)

Anonymous

I get in early and leave early so my work day overlaps less with jerks like you.

(3)(0)

Oz barrister

In Australia we start between 7 and 8.30 am, if you turned up after 8.30am you would not have a job. Do you start later because of no sunlight??? Court starts at 10, sometimes 9.30. Usual leaving time would be 6-7pm, but the bigger firms expect later knock off and that you have no social life and few weekends off. If you divide your salary by your hours, you may get a shock.

(0)(0)

Lists for the eyes

Oh c’mon! How comprehensive could this ranking even be. What matters is how they arrived to those figures.

If they ask two Banking lawyers from let’s say L&W and two Real Estate/Employment lawyers from MC firms or other firms the results will be skewed. Unless they have managed to get average time from a great pool of lawyers for each firm (which is unlikely), LC should focus on practice-specific times. Each practice’s times vary significantly.

Another reason to do this practice-specific rank is that results are skewed by the nature and size of the firms. What I mean is that K&E has a London office dedicated to corporate (and primarily PE/M&A) office. So it is natural lawyers will work long hours. Then HSF has a London office working on corporate, banking, real estate, employment etc. The average of the former will always be higher than the latter considering the former’s surrounding practices will be very limited. Also, size matters; Debevoise, Milbank, Vinson etc have small offices thus there are no surrounding practices or lawyers to bring the average down as for MC/SC and other big firms.

Basically, all I am saying is that this list is completely useless information and I feel it is just made by LC and conveniently ranked in a way that glorifies US firms, just because that stirs up the debate. A similar list on corporate-only or litigation-only practices would be a lot more interesting. Also, an indication of the pool reviewed would be helpful.

(13)(0)

Anon

Absolutely agreed. This is hugely skewed depending on the variety of practice areas in any given firm.

I can only speak from personal experience but I’m at the end of my silver circle TC. My leave time has varied hugely from a Real Estate seat (I can count on one hand the amount of times I left after 7pm) to a Corporate seat (finishing on average around 9-10pm with frequent post-midnight finishes – nowhere near US firms but not early either).

I would love to see a comparison of the Corporate and Litigation teams between firms as this would give a far fairer assessment of hours and so-called “balance”.

(3)(0)

TJ

If you believe that Slaughters lawyers leave time is at average half 7 you’re fully deluded.

Having trained and qualified there, was an associate for a couple years but now I am an at another firm, I can assure you 7:27 was nowhere near the average leave time.

Slaughters doesn’t have a billable hours target so they like to give the impression that they have better working hours but this is simply untrue. It’s more in line with the other MC firm times and dare I say it, often US firm hours.

(11)(3)

TJ continued

I am at another firm*

Excuse the spelling error lol typed it out quickly.

(2)(0)

DJ

As a current Slaughters associate I can say that, actually, I do leave at c. 7:27pm most evenings.

Of course, there’s plenty of later nights than this, but I rarely leave after 6pm on a Friday and can usually escape at around 7pm if I have plans.

Appreciate that your experience may have been different to mine, but for those not in one of the corporate groups the hours are relatively civil, and nowhere near as bad as US firms’ hours. Hence why the majority of us stick around even when consistently pestered by recruiters to join K&E et. al.

(6)(4)

Toby

The jig is up, grad rec.

(7)(3)

Northernmonkey

I do get that at some firms the amount of time you are present matters. I am much more interested in how hard people work. IME many of those who are there all hours spend ages not doing a right lot.

I sit down and work hard. I don’t chat, i don’t go for coffee, I never pick up my mobile unless it rings and its work related. No social media or internet, I do take a 45 min lunch break and then get back to it. I don’t work late unless its essential.

I do know that I am more productive than the late workers. Fortunately our partners also know that as well, mainly because they are not morons.

Trust me, once you get out of the weeds of a TC this is the way to go. You will get a good reputation and be recognised for your work, not your hours.

(1)(0)

Anon

I’m surprised it’s not much worse.
As an in-house lawyer, 60-80 hour weeks were always the order of the day; and, if travelling, I sometimes barely got to bed. I’d go to USA overnight and start meetings when I arrived. As for holidays- what’s a holiday?
I can see that a few law firms on the list which I instructed were doing much shorter hours than I was and I bet they were seriously well paid.
It’s the nature of the game, I’m afraid.

(0)(0)

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