Legal Cheek exclusive research shows how the average working hours for junior lawyers have fared in the face of changing work arrangements
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 firm||Average start time||Average finish time|
|Kirkland & Ellis||9:14am||11:28pm|
|Ropes & Gray||9:20am||10:51pm|
|Weil Gotshal & Manges||9:46am||10:17pm|
|Latham & Watkins||9:16am||9:48pm|
|White & Case||9:01am||9:36pm|
|Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton||9:29am||9:16pm|
|Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer||9:09am||9:01pm|
|Shearman & Sterling||9:09am||8:58pm|
|Allen & Overy||9:04am||8:55pm|
|Sullivan & Cromwell||9:41am||8:53pm|
|Davis Polk & Wardwell||9:36am||8:39pm|
|Debevoise & Plimpton||9:16am||8:39pm|
|Herbert Smith Freehills||8:57am||8:38pm|
|Norton Rose Fulbright||9:07am||8:38pm|
|Vinson & Elkins||9:02am||8:36pm|
|Willkie Farr & Gallagher||8:55am||8:32pm|
|Simmons & Simmons||8:55am||8:25pm|
|Covington & Burling||9:12am||8:22pm|
|Slaughter and May||9:12am||8:16pm|
|Mishcon de Reya||8:58am||7:47pm|
|Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner||9:02am||7:35pm|
|Watson Farley & Williams||9:11am||7:23pm|
|Clyde & Co||8:46am||7:13pm|
|Bird & Bird||9:01am||7:09pm|
|Ince Gordon Dadds||9:02am||6:57pm|
|Charles Russell Speechlys||8:44am||6:52pm|
|Penningtons Manches Cooper||8:46am||6:51pm|
|Squire Patton Boggs||8:42am||6:48pm|
|Farrer & Co||8:52am||6:46pm|
|Trowers & Hamlins||8:45am||6:32pm|
|DWF Group Plc||8:31am||6:30pm|
|Royds Withy King||8:43am||6:06pm|
|Mills & Reeve||8:35am||6:01pm|
|Womble Bond Dickinson||8:43am||6:00pm|
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.