Legal Cheek’s exclusive research sheds light on the working habits of trainee and junior lawyers as firms continue to fine-tune their WFH policies
Earning big salaries working on even bigger deals from fancy perk-filled offices comes with the trade-off of long working hours. New Legal Cheek research provides un-paralleled insights into average start and finish times at top law firms across the UK.
As big legal players continue to fine-tune their flexible working polices in a bid to balance the needs of their clients and staff, our exclusive data shows a slight drop in the average hours clocked up by juniors this year compared to last year.
The reduction in time spent working ranges from several minutes for some lawyers to almost an hour for others. This could be down to a number of factors including firms making more of an effort to improve the work-life balance of their lawyers, and a cooling in client demand in some practice areas following a post-lockdown boom.
Perhaps unsurprising to most, the London offices of high-paying US powerhouses top the list of latest finish times. Kirkland & Ellis, the Chicago-headquartered outfit, landed the top spot on the list for a third year in a row, with average start and finish times at 9:19am and 11:11pm. Joining it in second and third spots, albeit by a fair distance, are US firms Ropes & Gray and Latham & Watkins, with finish times of 9:58pm and 9:13pm respectively.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the timings table, national players chalked up the shortest days. Personal injury giant Fletchers boasts the earliest average finish time at 5:14pm, with Express Solicitors in second place at 5:33pm. Rounding off the top three earlier finishers is Weightmans at 5:44pm.
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 2022-23 — average start and finish times
|Law firm||Average start time||Average finish time|
|Kirkland & Ellis||9:19am||11:11pm|
|Ropes & Gray||9:19am||9:58pm|
|Latham & Watkins||9:21am||9:13pm|
|Weil Gotshal & Manges||9:12am||9:11pm|
|Vinson & Elkins||9:05am||9:06pm|
|Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton||9:07am||9:06pm|
|Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer||9:16am||8:59pm|
|Sullivan & Cromwell||9:41am||8:53pm|
|Davis Polk & Wardwell||9:36am||8:39pm|
|White & Case||9:26am||8:35pm|
|Simmons & Simmons||9:01am||8:30pm|
|Norton Rose Fulbright||9:06am||8:19pm|
|Herbert Smith Freehills||9:09am||8:18pm|
|Allen & Overy||9:18am||8:18pm|
|Willkie Farr & Gallagher||9:28am||8:13pm|
|Shearman & Sterling||9:16am||8:13pm|
|Debevoise & Plimpton||9:27am||8:08pm|
|Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner||9:09am||7:43pm|
|Slaughter and May||9:18am||7:41pm|
|Watson Farley & Williams||9:22am||7:22pm|
|Bird & Bird||9:04am||7:12pm|
|Mischon de Reya||9:02am||7:04pm|
|Charles Russell Speechlys||9:16am||6:47pm|
|Clyde & Co||9:01am||6:39pm|
|Squire Patton Boggs||8:52am||6:36pm|
|Penningtons Manches Cooper||8:41am||6:35pm|
|Farrer & Co||8:59am||6:35pm|
|Trowers & Hamlins||8:47am||6:19pm|
|DWF Group Plc||8:41am||6:15pm|
|Mills & Reeve||8:41am||6:06pm|
|Womble Bond Dickinson||8:41am||5:52pm|
As part of the survey, we also received hundreds of anonymous comments about working hours. Here are a selection of quotes from some Magic Circle and top US law firm trainees.
“My work/life balance fluctuates wildly being in a transactional seat. Some weeks I’ve been working in the taxi home at 2am, waking up in the morning and not having any time to shower or change before starting it all over again! However, some weeks I’ve had very little on so I’ve mainly worked on pro bono matters and administrative tasks, which are encouraged by the partners.”
“Post-Covid the WFH culture is also a lot more relaxed. It is very common to leave around 5:30-6pm, then log-on from home. Really nice if you have housemates/live with your partner.”
“Normally Saturdays and Sundays you are not expected to work — although normally one weekend of every month something comes up which requires a considerable number of hours at the week. Leaving the office pre-9pm in the week is a rarity.”
It’s not all work and no play, though. Some rookies mentioned the importance of boundaries and taking control of working habits.
“If you put down boundaries, they will be respected. As long as the relevant deadlines are met, no one minds if you leave the office at 3pm.”
“Hours can be anti-social, but if I have plans that I really want to do, on the whole I can do them if I flag it and work around it. My trainer even let me book a half day off with a couple of days’ notice so I could watch Hamilton. Weekends have been broadly uninterrupted.”
“There have been weeks where I have worked late hours but people seem to be very conscious of the need for people to pursue their hobbies and passions outside of work. I have been able to regularly go to the gym five times a week before work (with the exception of closing week on a deal when I was working past 2am every day) and have also been able to play football/go for drinks with friends/colleagues after work.”