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Fewer than a quarter of burnt-out lawyers feel supported by their firm

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Lack of help comes despite research showing vast majority have suffered exhaustion at some point in their careers

Fewer than a quarter of lawyers who have suffered from burnout or stress say they felt adequately supported by their firm at the time.

The new research also found a staggering 92% of lawyers had experienced stress or burnout as a direct result of their job, while a little over a quarter admitted to suffering these on a daily basis.

The findings, undertaken by YouGov on behalf of legal transaction management platform Legatics, were based on responses from 100 practising UK lawyers. Areas of work varied, but most respondents worked in corporate, litigation and real estate.

Researchers further found some two thirds of lawyers felt their job has had a detrimental impact on both their mental and physical health. Most respondents reported working between one and ten hours overtime per week, with poor work/life balance being cited as the top reason for quitting the profession.

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The research follows a stark warning from the chair of the Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) that “the overall culture in law is damaging to many junior lawyers”. This, Suzanna Eames said, is causing many younger members of the profession to suffer from mental health problems such as burnout, depression, anxiety and even self-harm and suicidal thoughts.

Reflecting on the findings, Legatics CEO Anthony Seale said:

“Tackling these challenges is more important than ever. The pandemic has turned many people’s priorities around completely and changed our approach to work irreversibly. People are questioning what’s most important to them, and what they will and won’t put up with, and employers across all sectors are making changes to adapt in response.”

He added: “The message to employers is clear — it’s time to take notice of employee health, both physical and mental. If you are not supporting the wellbeing of your employees, you will see a real business impact on talent retention, and the ability of your teams to work effectively.”

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25 Comments

MC ass

Not really sure what the point of bemoaning mental health and stress is in this context.
Yeah, mental health is important and seeing a therapist is probably a good idea for a lot of people, but I’m not sure what people want their firm to do for them?

They pay me well enough that I could get help if I needed it. What else do you want? Change the whole financial industry so you get to go home earlier? Mandatory ego-flattery hour every Wednesday morning? Complimentary at-desk massages after 7pm (complete with happy endings for those with high billables)?

Actually, you know what, that last one doesn’t sound too bad.

(18)(75)

FT

You’ve just made my morning 😂

(8)(24)

Fellow MC Associate

I’m one of those well-paid people who can afford a psychiatrist.

Do you know what my main criteria was when looking for one? Someone who could work on weekends or who would be fine with me cancelling an appointment last minute because the partner’s asked me to do some “urgent” work. Says so much about corporate law.

It really doesn’t need to be this way. There are strange pieces of dogma in society that are eventually exposed as lies (‘you must come into an office to do work, you cannot have a female managing partner’ etc). The idea that you have to sacrifice your physical and mental health to earn a good salary in law is another one and a relic of the Puritan work ethic. I have ‘tech bro’ friends earning more than me and with a far better quality of life.

What’s particularly galling is having to suffer the crap all these firms pump out on how great an employer they are and how they’ve signed up to a mental health charter. They’re having their cake, eating it and telling you to be resilient while feeding you a crumb

(108)(4)

MC ass

Tech is a different world to Law, especially at MC where corporate finance and banking are still king. I have friends that do AI or machine learning or whatever boomer-dazzling names people have come up with to make embedded if and else commands sound investable who work fewer hours than me and are paid more, but that’s because its a different career.

As long as you work in the area of Law that acts in assistance of corporate clients, and those corporate clients are working until late, expect to work late.

As to the firms autofelatio about being a paradise of dopamine and self-actualisation, yeah it’s BS, and I wish they’d stop pandering and admit that they’re brutal but well-paid, but alas, honestly and advertising aren’t exactly notable partners.

(8)(22)

Anon

The idea that it has to be this way is a relic. When you go to a 5* hotel, you expect to be able to get room service 24/7 and someone to be on reception, and so on. But you don’t insist that just because ‘David’ delivered room service last time, or made up your room & remembered your preference for a particular type of pillow, that David is the only person who can ever serve you in the future – but you can expect your preferences to be remembered. Law could get to a similar place. What partners and lawyers need to accept is lower profits / less money.

(2)(3)

Junior barrister

This is so naive it is difficult to know where to begin

Anon

Just as occupational health & safety is supposed to protect physical health – ie PPE – I’d like my work not to damage my mental health, either.

(3)(0)

Blah

Heat. Kitchen. Other careers available.

(3)(8)

meh

Hi fresher. Good flexing.

(4)(2)

Anon

No I am going to do this career actually and continue to call for change. Sorry about that.

(0)(1)

Disillusioned associate

Corporate lawyers don’t feel supported by their firms…I am SHOCKED!

The firms I’ve worked for have been very supportive. They haven’t done minor things like putting me on fewer matters or allowing me proper downtime at the end of a transaction. Pfft…who needs that? As if employing a couple more associates and shaving a fraction off PEP would solve this problem!

No, my firms have sent me several emails on mental health and wellbeing. These have all been substantive and informative (not fluffy nonsense reminding me to breathe). I’ve also relished the challenge of trying to attend talks on mental health around my busy diary of calls and actual work. Oh and they’ve been very generous! The MC firm I was at sent me a small box of chocolates last year. I’m not sure what they did with the rest of the revenue we generated for them…

Of course, it’s not the firm’s fault that I have a job where I routinely receive and have to understand/action between 50-150 emails a day (I once got 260 emails in one 24 hour stint on just one deal). No, I should just remember to breathe and tell myself to be mOrE rEsiLiEnT…

(83)(3)

Another associate

Agreed. It is very simple. No one cares about fruit baskets, mental health techniques, yoga etc etc

I also dont think people want to log off at 5:30pm on the dot. Some of us are happy with doing a 9-7pm average finish (noting hours will be longer closer to signing/close but with some downtime after?) but the only way to achieve this is to take work off each associate which in turn is achieved by hiring more associates… but that means less PEP and it doesn’t matter how important the issue i.e. mental health, racism, sexism etc… if you go after their pockets, expect resistance.

For as long as it is busy and money is coming in, nothing will change.

(53)(1)

tired PP lawyer

the unpredictability of the hours is particularly irritating and makes it really difficult to plan anything personal. That’s tolerable when you’re young and don’t have family responsibilities, but it really starts to grate once you get older. On several occasions I’ve had to pay for emergency childcare on what was supposed to be a day off because there was some arbitrary deadline to be met.

I agree with the other comments that the entirely performative “we care so much about mental health” guff that law firm management pumps out is even more irritating. Some might call it gaslighting.

(36)(1)

tired PP lawyer

I have no expectation of being able to log off at 5:30, but I do have some expectation that on a day I’ve planned to take off to look after my kids I will be able to do so rather than churning 10 billable hours.

(23)(0)

Which is it

Except it is not just about PEP. Look at the salivating comments on this site when NQ or other salaries are lifted higher and higher. This spiral is a cost and costs come with the need to produce more output, which is almost always more billable hours.

If associates want to earn 75k rather than 100k then there can be more staff for similar cost bases. What do you want? More cash or fewer hours?

(8)(12)

FF Sake

The issue here is more cash is guaranteed. Fewer hours is not, even if salaries are lowered. The whole reason why people are leaving the industry / from SC to MC to US is because they’ve found out that less cash does not = fewer hours, especially in transactional departments.

(41)(1)

tired PP lawyer

the problem is NQs are usually people without families and at start of their careers, so understandably they want money, on the whole. But, equally understandably, more senior lawyers who aren’t partners will get disgruntled once NQs who add little value (because they are junior rather than because they aren’t good) are earning close to what the seniors do (see “salary bunching”).

As others have said, it’s not always the number of hours it’s their unpredictability and the fact you have little control over them, and can be have not much to do until mid-afternoon when client instructions suddenly mean you need to work full tilt until midnight – 1am.

(14)(0)

Less spin please

Self-reporting surveys show nothing.

Lazy media repeating of data from self-reporting surveys extracted by campaign groups who commissioned them which have inserted into press releases is a big problem. It gives the veneer of credibility to that which should be given no weight at all. The headline of this story is a good example of the problem.

(6)(15)

Anonymous

Needs to be a culture change. More staff, less money per person, the right type of people appointed to top positions (no point in replacing unsuitable men with unsuitable women).

(9)(4)

Anon

Why not more staff, same money per salaried staff, slightly less pep?

(3)(2)

Cynic (but accurate)

TL;DR. If you’re not resilient enough to withstand the pressure, get out. Please just STFU and stop boring us about your “mental health”. It’s mind-numblingly, soul-destroyingly, eye-gouglingly dull. We simply don’t care. The weak amongst you are merely HR liabilities which drag down PEP. Good riddance.
____________________

Law firms are not struggling to recruit or retain associates. Those who can’t hack it are leaving. Good riddance – they are quickly replaced, and not missed. There will only be an problem if – one day – law firms are unable to recruit or retain sufficient associates of sufficient calibre to service their clients. That’s not happening yet. Tell me, when do you foresee a shortage of 20-somethings willing to accept 6-figure salaries only a couple of years out of university?

Once associates have enough experience to actually be useful, i.e. by 4-5 PQE, they are also approaching their late 20’s, and many are starting to settle down with a partner and consider children. That’s when the exodus begins. Law firms are highly leveraged, and the ‘Finder, Minder, Grinder’ model requires a pyramid, with lots of associates, far fewer senior/managing associates, and a handful of rainmaker partners.

The same factors arise in the never-ending whinging about retaining female lawyers to partnership: many of them, very sensibly, don’t want to work daft hours doing an often dull job for uninspiring corporate clients. This will never change, because the different sexes make different choices. The current system works: with 23%*, law firms retain enough associates and senior associates to populate the next level of the hierarchy. If the other 77% voluntarily jump ship, great – it saves difficult conversations and redundancy payments!

* “Gen Z lawyers want more than just zeroes on their paycheque”, The Times, 27 May 2021, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/gen-z-lawyers-want-more-than-just-zeroes-on-their-paycheque-qxgtbs3mc

(6)(18)

EX US 3PQE

Couldn’t disagree more on some of your points. This whole “if you can’t handle the heat, get out of the kitchen” mentality is nonsense. Like others have posted on this thread, there are many better paying careers which do not necessitate such an adverse affect on of your physical/mental wellbeing.

Time to stop glorifying burnout, the cult of ‘overwork’ and allnighters in the office. There’s nothing cool about never being home in time to put your kids to bed, very rarely having time to see friends, and missing many important events for the sake of a a nice pay packet. Seriously, it’s just not worth it.

(7)(2)

Junior barrister

Your unparticularised comparison isn’t helpful. The profession needs to compare against another service type profession. In that regard, law probably comes second only to IB.

It’s pointless to compare to tech. The funding and income models are completely different.

(3)(0)

Anon

Are you a human? It’s only like this because we as people set it up this way. There are other ways.

(0)(2)

Anonymous

Mental health snags usually dissipate after a generous imbibing of Legal Cheeck user commentaries.

(0)(0)

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