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Revealed: Law firms’ average start work and finish times 2021-22

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Legal Cheek exclusive research shows how the average working hours for junior lawyers have fared in the face of changing work arrangements

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Legal Cheek research has provided an exclusive insight into the average start work and finish times for trainees and junior associates across 100 law firms in London and the UK.

Despite lawyers spending more time at home and less time tackling the daily commute, the survey responses of over 2,500 junior lawyers taken earlier this year, show that the move to remote-working has only served to ramp up the already lengthy working hours for rookies at elite City firms.

As we revealed earlier this week, junior lawyers at Kirkland & Ellis racked up the longest average working day by quite some distance, typically starting at 9:14am and finishing at around 11:28pm. This marks a significant increase on the 9:46pm average finish time recorded by the firm in last year’s survey.

Kirkland is joined in the top three spots by other US powerhouses in London. Ropes & Gray recorded the second latest average finish time of 10:51pm, followed by Weil in third place, where the average finish is at 10:17pm.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the other end of the list is largely populated by national firms, headquartered outside of London. Fletchers boasts the earliest average finish time, with junior lawyers usually signed off by 5:38pm. HCR Hewitsons has the second average earliest finish time at 5:43pm, five minutes later than their Fletchers counterparts, and in third place Thrings at 5:45pm.

So how does your firm fare? The full list of 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 2021-22 — average start work and finish times

Law firmAverage start timeAverage finish time
Kirkland & Ellis9:14am11:28pm
Ropes & Gray9:20am10:51pm
Weil Gotshal & Manges9:46am10:17pm
Latham & Watkins9:16am9:48pm
Goodwin Procter9:12am9:45pm
White & Case9:01am9:36pm
Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton9:29am9:16pm
Paul Hastings9:29am9:13pm
Clifford Chance9:06am9:09pm
Linklaters9:01am9:09pm
Orrick9:00am9:07pm
Sidley Austin9:15am9:03pm
Dechert9:00am9:01pm
Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer9:09am9:01pm
Milbank9:32am9:01pm
Skadden9:05am9:01pm
Shearman & Sterling9:09am8:58pm
Allen & Overy9:04am8:55pm
Sullivan & Cromwell9:41am8:53pm
Gibson Dunn8:43am8:45pm
Fried Frank8:58am8:42pm
Davis Polk & Wardwell9:36am8:39pm
Debevoise & Plimpton9:16am8:39pm
Herbert Smith Freehills8:57am8:38pm
Norton Rose Fulbright9:07am8:38pm
Vinson & Elkins9:02am8:36pm
Jones Day8:47am8:32pm
Willkie Farr & Gallagher8:55am8:32pm
Simmons & Simmons8:55am8:25pm
Covington & Burling9:12am8:22pm
Macfarlanes8:58am8:20pm
Baker McKenzie9:09am8:19pm
Slaughter and May9:12am8:16pm
Mayer Brown8:51am8:07pm
Hogan Lovells9:08am7:54pm
K&L Gates9:04am7:51pm
Akin Gump8:51am7:50pm
Dentons8:56am7:50pm
Mishcon de Reya8:58am7:47pm
Reed Smith9:16am7:46pm
Taylor Wessing9:08am7:45pm
Stephenson Harwood9:05am7:39pm
Cooley8:56am7:36pm
Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner9:02am7:35pm
Travers Smith9:12am7:33pm
Ashurst9:03am7:30pm
Withers8:48am7:25pm
DLA Piper8:42am7:24pm
Watson Farley & Williams9:11am7:23pm
Wiggin9:01am7:23pm
CMS8:51am7:21pm
HFW9:05am7:20pm
Clyde & Co8:46am7:13pm
Howard Kennedy9:01am7:11pm
Eversheds Sutherland8:44am7:10pm
Gowling WLG8:49am7:10pm
Bird & Bird9:01am7:09pm
RPC8:45am7:04pm
Fladgate8:51am6:59pm
Pinsent Masons8:48am6:59pm
Burges Salmon8:49am6:58pm
Ince Gordon Dadds9:02am6:57pm
Bristows9:03am6:54pm
Charles Russell Speechlys8:44am6:52pm
Osborne Clarke8:54am6:52pm
Addleshaw Goddard8:45am6:51pm
Penningtons Manches Cooper8:46am6:51pm
Kingsley Napley9:03am6:50pm
Squire Patton Boggs8:42am6:48pm
Farrer & Co8:52am6:46pm
Ashfords8:49am6:45pm
Wedlake Bell8:54am6:43pm
Accutrainee8:52am6:42pm
Fieldfisher8:55am6:41pm
PwC9:03am6:38pm
Walker Morris8:30am6:37pm
Kennedys8:31am6:35pm
Shoosmiths8:39am6:33pm
Trowers & Hamlins8:45am6:32pm
Forsters8:55am6:31pm
DWF Group Plc8:31am6:30pm
TLT8:33am6:28pm
Hill Dickinson8:50am6:25pm
DAC Beachcroft8:36am6:22pm
Gateley8:43am6:21pm
Irwin Mitchell8:38am6:21pm
Russell-Cooke9:12am6:21pm
VWV8:56am6:20pm
Blake Morgan8:45am6:19pm
Browne Jacobson8:36am6:12pm
Royds Withy King8:43am6:06pm
Bevan Brittan8:49am6:04pm
Shakespeare Martineau8:55am6:02pm
Foot Anstey8:43am6:01pm
Mills & Reeve8:35am6:01pm
Womble Bond Dickinson8:43am6:00pm
BLM8:40am5:57pm
Michelmores8:32am5:54pm
Weightmans8:33am5:47pm
Thrings8:38am5:45pm
HCR Hewitsons8:37am5:43pm
Fletchers8:21am5:38pm
The 2022 Firms Most List – featuring the Legal Cheek Survey results in full

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

“Pre-covid, while there were of course busy periods, I would generally log off and leave the office between 7-9pm, and weekend working was a rarity. Now, finishing work before midnight is unheard of during the week, and weekend working is a regular occurrence.”

“[There is] lots of talk about the need to switch off when working from home, but this doesn’t really happen in practice. It’s become the norm that I will take a short break for dinner but feel compelled to log back on right up until I go to bed.”

“When things are busy, or you’re on a deal, you’re effectively on call the whole time including weekends. There are periods of downtime which helps. There are no typical working hours as such but depends on the team.”

But it’s not all doom and gloom, as juniors at some of the other firms felt that hours were more fairly balanced.

“No one goes into law expecting a 9 to 5. The more senior lawyers are very respectful of your social life. If you flag that you have an engagement, they’ll do their best not to bother you.”

“Work/life balance is a real priority for the firm and I have never been made to feel that I had to work late to ‘prove myself’.”

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

“We’re disappointed to see that junior lawyers are working longer and longer hours, with many finding that working from home means they never really finish work for the day. Our recent Life in the Law research showed a direct correlation between work intensity and burnout, with the highest burnout scores found in younger legal professionals.

“It is dangerous to work the junior end of the profession into the ground for a variety of reasons; it affects the individual themselves, it increases the risk of mistakes being made, and young people won’t want to come and work in a profession that doesn’t value their wellbeing. This really shows why we need a culture change in the law, your performance should not solely be based on the hours you bill and we should be putting people first.”

Struggling with the stress of work? Contact LawCare via its helpline or live chat.

The 2022 Firms Most List – featuring the Legal Cheek Survey results in full

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