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Pay, stress and poor work-life balance among top reasons why lawyers are quitting

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Research suggests almost a quarter said they wanted a career change

A survey of legal workers in the UK who have changed jobs at least once in their career has shown that pay, stress, poor career progression and a lack of work-life balance are the primary reasons why they’re leaving their jobs.

Some 35% of those surveyed working in the legal sector said pay was a factor in them deciding to leave their role, whilst 24% cited work-life balance as the major reason for moving. Twelve-percent revealed that their old position was too stressful and 24% told Go1, the online learning platform which conducted the survey, that they wanted a career change.

The research further found that 20% of workers in the legal industry felt their employer didn’t offer sufficient career progression.

The 2023 Legal Cheek Firms Most List

This figure was the joint highest, alongside the IT sector, of all the sectors surveyed in this category. It was closely followed by architecture & engineering (19%), whilst 14% of those those surveyed in the finance sector complained of poor career progression.

An average of all professions included in the research also indicates that Gen Z (aged 16-23) will only stay in a role they’re unhappy in for just over four months before resigning. Millennials (aged 24-42), however, are likely to stick it out slightly longer, waiting just under a year (11.2 months) before leaving, whereas Gen X (aged 43-54) will wait for just over a year (12.5 months) and baby boomers (aged 55-73) 17.6 months.

Legal Cheek has been closely reporting on the war for legal talent that has been going on since US firms began to expand their foothold in the London legal market. Many top US players now pay their City juniors upwards of £160,000 upon qualification, our Most List 2023 shows. But the work hours have also become more extreme, with some City lawyers clocking off, on average, post 11pm.

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25 Comments

Kirkland NQ

As I gaze at the sun glinting on my brand new Lambo on the driveway to my Chelsea Townhouse, sipping reflectively on the flute of vintage Krug my model girlfriend poured to celebrate yet another PE fund smashed, I struggle to identify with this article.

(33)(44)

Anonymous

This is slightly concerning as a future trainee. I was never under any illusions that commercial law was good for a work life balance, but for those of us who want to actually spend their wages/have any semblance of a family life this is a problem.

Combined with a lack of career progression and I’m wondering what the long-term prospects or options are.

(18)(1)

A

Commercial firms have significant lawyer attrition built in to the business model – the best thing I can say from experience is that it’s a well-paid, well-respected and (in most cases) half decent working environment in which to get on the career ladder. Whilst you’re young and inexperienced, I would just get stuck in, safe in the knowledge there are a lot of different doors to walk through whenever you want to get off the gravy train. Some people end up loving it and never get off.

(57)(0)

Poster

Solid advice – thanks!

(6)(2)

Ex City Lawyer- Moved In-house

Train, gain 5 years post qualification experience then move in-house and enjoy that 9-5.30 life.

That’s what I did, took a £50k hit on salary but love my life now

(10)(0)

Mr. William Waever

It’s so true.

I have to look for stress relief by doing unusual things in public places.

(4)(0)

Anon

You’re a hero. Never stop posting

(4)(7)

Twelve furious pigs

Does some this data refer to lawyers who left their current firm and moved to another?

I imagine pay is the reason many lawyers jump ship to another firm.

(0)(5)

Carbolic

Many jump ship because they can’t hack hours and are better suited to a place lower down the pecking order. Recruiting them is a risk, they aren’t wanting cash and tend to have good academics but the fact they have flaked out already is a real red flag. If you think they are decent profit prospects for a few years at a low expectation hour level before they move again then it might be worth it. But that all means they are never worth using if they are coming via a recruitment agency because the cost drag offsets the upside to much.

(4)(26)

Lemoncello

Well many irrespective of industry have to work long hours to pay bills and so forth. Being a lawyer is a privilege – you are at least remunerated handsomely to have the financial ability to enjoy life. Plenty of associates at US firms hold memberships to private clubs in the city, splurging hundreds at 2/3 starred restaurants – you don’t receive the same reward as a doctor/nurse/engineer/standard office worker. Not saying that the high pay justifies the stress/long hours, but you are compensated for the sacrifices.

(41)(7)

DON'T BREAK UP WITH ME SALLY, I LOVE YOU

Yeah you don’t get how pay works.

So what happens is you put in 30 odd k pre-tax to your pension. That goes from your gross salary. You do this as there’s a 60% tax between 100-125k, and overall pension is the most tax efficient way to do things.

45% over 150k.

Then the student loans thing is big. So those post 2012 university grads have about – I don’t know for sure, as I was pre 2012, but it’s about 50k of debt. That’ll come out of your net salary.

So say 150k just as an example, say you try to tax mitigate with pension of 30k + 10 of e’er contribution, then you’ll end up with about 73k, 10k will come off that for student loans, so you’re rocking on 63k net net.

Bear in mind you’re going to be living alone, you need to work from home and having a bunch of housemates aren’t going to cut it – so you’re looking at 1500-2000 a month in rent for a 1 bed flat for somewhere decent and commutable. Say 21000k at 1750 a month. Then you’ve got bills. Food etc.

Maybe you’ll save 30k. Maybe 35k. Whoop a doop.

Ohhhhhh but your student loans get paid off!!!! Yeah well you’d be surprised how many people jump the system and move above, especially given the number of foreigners at British unis, as well as the substantial majority that never will look to pay it off, but do so at a few k a year living in the UK.

Also if you went to uni pre-2012 you can go to [insert crap mid market firm] and have a similar end paygame as Akin Gump or thereabouts but without getting creamed in the bottom every night.

But the end position is that you’re mildly comfortable but not rolling in it at private members clubs as an associate.

(9)(19)

Reality

“Maybe you’ll save 30k. Maybe 35k. Whoop a doop.”

Maybe you’ll save more than the average national salary, every year? Calling such a huge amount of savings (which would allow you to buy a house in London in about 5 years) only “whoop a doop” shows how out of touch some lawyers are.

(46)(4)

I'M THAT DUDE ABOVE IN THE CAPS

Yeah but that’s total bullsh1t.

You’re not doing an average job. For the proper US firms, 150k and up, you’re doing 12-14 hour days, 4 days a week, off at 6 on a Friday and a few hours of weekend work. Maybe you can do 9-10 hours a day with an easier US firm in an advisory team, but it might be much longer at K&E transactional – somewhere like K&E is 6/7 days a week.

It’s also hard. You get hard questions. And you do hard documents. Yeah when you’re a trainee, you might get stuck doing redlines and transcribing comments, and it’s super boring, but you can’t do that forever, as you become an associate and get more senior, you get loads of admin, but also loads of actually hard work. As in, difficult. As in, people who are in other jobs couldn’t do it. It’s stressful. Because you’ve got tight deadlines. Doing hard work. That’s also boring.

And also you’re talking nonsense on housing too. You can’t a house in a London – I mean you, can but in somewhere crappy like Leytonstone – like a 2 bed mid terrace for 650. And unless you have a kid and a partner, there’s no way you’d consider it. An actual house is well over a million anywhere slightly commutable and way out of an actual associate’s budget / risk appetite for a mortgage. Associates buy flats. Do you know who also buys flats? Everyone else in reasonable graduate jobs. Yes, within 5+ years. It’s not how lucky we are compared to the struggling binmen who left school at 16.

It may well be that an associate at K&E can afford a 2 bed flat in Bermondsey, or Stoke Newington, while a pair of married civil servants buy a 2 bed in Clapham together, or someone else who is a consultant on 70-80k buys in Bermondsey in the same block but it’s a 1 bed. It’s not going to change your life.

And at the moment, no one sane is going to buy anything since interest rates are crazy and house prices are also inflated, waiting for a crash. No one knows what the housing market is going to do. What happens if Akin Gump associate has recently bought a 2 bed flat for 680, and the housing market falls by 15% and he’s in negative equity. What about those who have done 2-3 year fixes which are up around now and they’re remortgaging. Those associates are getting hammed on interest, and if someone is forced to remortgage on a big mortgage right now, they’re overall financials won’t look hot.

Associates just aren’t living in 10 bedroom mansions in Chelsea wining and dining at top restaurants (outside firm and client events) and living out of private members clubs.

(29)(13)

Lemoncello

I have at least 4 colleagues (5PQE or below) who are NED full members and dine at top restaurants at least once a week (usually on a Saturday because we work on Friday and Sunday evenings). Many associates pay £3-4k/month for rent and wear nice watches – the Rolex, VC, Hublot, Grand Seiko… when you’re on £200-270k plus £30-95k bonus, people can go mad.

Kirkland NQ

You’re right. It’s 12 bedrooms if you include the servants’ quarters.

Yes

Also, people speak on LC about pension contributions as if the money is gone. It’s not. It’s there (plus growth) waiting for you when you retire. As an NQ you can put £40k pa into your pension. As you say, more than the national average salary (much more).

Not all of us are waiting on a nice inheritance from mummy and daddy. These figures are life-changing.

Separate point about living costs, I pay much less than the figures above. I share a room with my partner and walk 15 minutes into work each day (no WFH – admittedly that is unusual).

(10)(1)

Notbovered

Reality, not out of touch, just not interested. Average means mediocre and we are not mediocre. We studied hard so we left mediocrity behind us.

(8)(6)

Btec financial advice

Use your supposedly oh-so-big brain and pay off student loans ASAP. Amortising debt with a 7%+ interest rate is a significantly better rate of return than saving for a house deposit.

Nobody feels sorry for you.

(0)(0)

Di Verse

Surely the family trustee clears the student debt upon graduation?

(6)(0)

Anon

Exactly – when NQ solicitors are paid more than NHS consultants you know that you’re getting excellent comp for what you’re being asked to do.

(14)(3)

Worker

If they can’t handle it, they leave. Simples. We miss them. For about 5 minutes.

(7)(2)

Anonymous

water is wet

(0)(0)

fresher with brain

if you’re ever sad to be working on redlines at 3am, be grateful you’re not an NHS consultant earning less than a NQ at HSF who’s covered in vomit working equally bad hours

(11)(2)

Worried future trainee

Why is an HSF NQ covered in vomit? Is that something firms allow clients to do them?

(13)(0)

Anonymousse

NHS consultants with any sense whatsoever spend most of their time at the nearest private hospital or at the golf course.

(3)(1)

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