Analysis

Revealed: Law firms’ average start work and finish times 2023

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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.

The 2023 Firms Most List – featuring the Legal Cheek Survey results in full

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 firmAverage start timeAverage finish time
Kirkland & Ellis9:19am11:11pm
Ropes & Gray9:19am9:58pm
Latham & Watkins9:21am9:13pm
Weil Gotshal & Manges9:12am9:11pm
Goodwin Procter9:18am9:11pm
Milbank9:04am9:09pm
Vinson & Elkins9:05am9:06pm
Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton9:07am9:06pm
Sidley Austin9:14am9:05pm
Skadden9:05am9:01pm
Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer9:16am8:59pm
Gibson Dunn9:16am8:58pm
Dechert8:57am8:58pm
Linklaters9:15am8:56pm
Sullivan & Cromwell9:41am8:53pm
Fried Frank8:58am8:42pm
Clifford Chance9:21am8:41pm
Davis Polk & Wardwell9:36am8:39pm
White & Case9:26am8:35pm
Simmons & Simmons9:01am8:30pm
Morrison Foerster9:02am8:22pm
Norton Rose Fulbright9:06am8:19pm
Akin Gump 9:22am8:19pm
Herbert Smith Freehills9:09am8:18pm
Allen & Overy9:18am8:18pm
Willkie Farr & Gallagher9:28am8:13pm
Shearman & Sterling9:16am8:13pm
Mayer Brown9:03am8:09pm
Ashurst09:09am8:09pm
Debevoise & Plimpton9:27am8:08pm
Baker McKenzie9:07am8:04pm
Macfarlanes9:03am7:58pm
Hogan Lovells9:09am7:51pm
Orrick9:08am7:48pm
Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner9:09am7:43pm
Slaughter and May9:18am7:41pm
Reed Smith9:14am7:38pm
Taylor Wessing9:05am7:26pm
Travers Smith9:12am7:25pm
RPC9:00am7:25pm
Watson Farley & Williams9:22am7:22pm
Wiggin9:02am7:17pm
CMS8:52am7:16pm
Bird & Bird9:04am7:12pm
HFW9:13am7:10pm
DLA Piper8:46am7:10pm
Dentons9:02am7:09pm
Withers8:52am7:07pm
Gowling WLG8:59am7:07pm
Mischon de Reya9:02am7:04pm
Ince9:02am6:57pm
Pinsent Masons8:52am6:48pm
Osborne Clarke8:56am6:47pm
Eversheds Sutherland8:36am6:47pm
Charles Russell Speechlys9:16am6:47pm
Burges Salmon8:41am6:47pm
Kingsley Napley9:15am6:45pm
Howard Kennedy9:09am6:44pm
Addleshaw Goddard8:46am6:44pm
Lewis Silkin8:59am6:41pm
Clyde & Co9:01am6:39pm
Squire Patton Boggs8:52am6:36pm
Shoosmiths8:41am6:35pm
Penningtons Manches Cooper8:41am6:35pm
Farrer & Co8:59am6:35pm
Fieldfisher9:00am6:33pm
Bristows9:09am6:30pm
Wedlake Bell8:59am6:27pm
Walker Morris8:29am6:26pm
TLT8:42am6:25pm
Accutrainee8:44am6:25pm
Taylor Vinters8:48am6:23pm
Trowers & Hamlins8:47am6:19pm
Forsters9:07am6:19pm
Gateley8:40am6:17pm
Hill Dickinson8:45am6:15pm
DWF Group Plc8:41am6:15pm
Russell-Cooke9:11am6:14pm
Kennedys8:51am6:10pm
Mills & Reeve8:41am6:06pm
Shakespeare Martineau8:42am6:00pm
Womble Bond Dickinson8:41am5:52pm
Ashfords8:42am5:51pm
Irwin Mitchell8:42am5:49pm
Weightmans8:30am5:44pm
Express Solicitors8:18am5:33pm
Fletchers8:21am5:14pm

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.”

The 2023 Firms Most List – featuring the Legal Cheek Survey results in full

61 Comments

Looking forward

to the comments.

Anon

It would help if the comments said which firm they apply to

Inquisitive youngun

What do you mean?

MC = US hours except Kirkland

Ahhhhh yes the classic you work less at the MC comments are now not statistically based, they are the same as the US.

Also, whatever Kirkland gives their trainees and associates (not gonna call them partners lol) must be really good since 9-11 can’t be healthy in any universe.

Overall, while I agree that the current and future trainees are much too entitled, this list does warn people of the reality regardless of whatever BS GR teams feed people.

Anon

It isn’t really 9-11 though or 9-9. It’s some 5pms, some 4ams, some weekends and everything in between. It’s the unpredictability that’s arguably the worst part as you can’t make reliable plans for anything.

Assoc

Agreed, it was the unpredictable aspect that’s challenging – you’d either have to cancel dinner plans last minute (despite not having much work all day) or finish unexpectedly at 5.30pm with no plans (… as your friends had probably given up on you by then) then have your weekend taken away. People were collapsing then continuing to work due to fear, it’s not an enjoyable environment. Working more 9.30am-9pm now with an occasional late one/Sunday still has a huge impact, but the predictability of it makes the work life balance manageable. It’s not unusual for people to be sat from 9pm-2am simply awaiting a Partner’s response to send a document out. As a senior lateral hire, it’s more manageable, but as a junior you will miss out on life for the sake of money, whether you choose to accept that or fight it.

XSM

Yeah, I can speak for Slaughters and say that during my four years there I left at 5 two or three times.

Anon

I have a TC offer from Links and Kirkland. Any tips on which to take?

Anon

Links
If you want to make partner at Kirkland join at like 3-4PQE – most people only last a couple years there
Better to take the good training at Links and then can move later if needed

Kirkland NQ

If you want a Lambo in a couple of years go to the ‘land. If you want to clean a lambo in a couple of years, go to Links.

Well

Linklaters. Much more social cachet. Much fewer tools at work.

LMAO Pty. Ltd.

“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!”

Sure you have, Gordon Gecko. Where do you get these jokers, LC?

Are we meant to believe that the poor trainee didn’t even shower and came back to office the next morning just because of running some CP checklist? 😀 😀 😀

US 1 PQE

Tell me you have never worked in an elite US law firm without telling me you haven’t worked in an elite US firm.

Yes it can be that demanding – quite often.

US 2 PQE (who showers and exercises even during deals lmao)

Sure lad, sure. Keep the porkies coming, we love ’em.

Restricting your hygiene in favour of your workplace is untrue or just pathetic

If you are seriously saying that you don’t have time to shower some mornings, then you are a fool who simply cares way too much about your job.

You can shower in 3 minutes for gods sake.

Either you’re actually just exaggerating or you seriously need to get over the pedestal you place on your workplace.

Gio

Kirkland is to be expected. But Latham does like to position itself as the cuddlier version of Kirks – but working 9-9 each day sounds equally as brutal to me. How is either of these sustainable.

US Senior Associate

This is some of the stupidest stuff I’ve ever read on this website. No firm in the city (even K&E) will ever want their associates (let alone trainees lmao) going without showering or doing basic things like eating meals. It’s bad for business and it’s a fast-tracked way to burning the f*ck out.

Quit talking smack and go have a shower you gimp.

I like eating my dinner at home

These hours look pretty accurate based on the firms I’ve worked at, and that friends work at.

In my experience of non transactional work, the averages given above are pretty much the minimum hours that apply when work is steady – there’s never really any finishing early (3pm etc) as there isn’t also the extreme working past midnight time to justify that.

If you are thinking about this career, these are the stats to look at.

You also need to consider that the above hours probably include 30 mins to an hour for lunch and breaks combined, with the rest being pretty intense work. There is not a lot down time.

You also need to consider the extra hours, the occasional weekend work (which is the case once qualified at most firms) and then the social side of things.

Terrible

Quite sad really that somebody will prioritise their work over washing themselves. Clearly failed to set proper boundaries with their supervising partner. Most of the time I’ve noticed that the people that do stay later work much slower and somehow tend to make much more mistakes and produce work of a lower quality – opting to stay in the office to ‘impress’ the partners.

Well-wisher

The duration/quality correlation or negative correlation is an interesting one. It can be juniority+lack of supervision -> anxiety -> catastrophising and quadruple-checking every single email -> brain freeze -> more mistakes -> guilt -> longer hours in the office to justify your existence & make up for past mistakes -> lack of sleep -> anxiety -> … (rinse and repeat).

Or it can be inertia and questionable work ethics. Or it can be that more senior colleagues have offloaded so much time-consuming admin (which should be done by the mythical creature once known as the PA or paralegal) to a junior that said junior genuinely needs to spend longer hours in the office, while not necessarily sacrificing the quality of work, provided that this is a max 1-2 week stint.

For those of us not currently in any of the above situations: what can we do to build a supportive culture and fight presenteeism? Become partner and disappear to Gran Canaria to set an example?

Bloke

Good to see some talk about mental health here, and your first para is pretty spot on for what I have experienced.

I don’t know what we can do to help it.

Perhaps show that you can earn a decent wage and do good work without doing this to yourself.

Chef

If you can’t stand the heat…

Cynical associate

These stats should always be taken with a pinch of salt. I’ve worked at 3 of the firms listed above and had friends working at many more. If you arrive at the “average” start and finish times at these firms, you’re going to see a lot of empty desks.

Picking randomly on HSF- the average worker is there 11 hours each day, apparently. HSF however is not the 2,000 billable hours plus firm that statistic would imply (it’s closer to 1,800, which is one hour less worked a day).

The better way to read these than actual stop/start times is to read them as “times that the people working at these firms don’t think are out of the ordinary to start and finish at”. That’s a bit different (a bit higher) than the average, but it’s still a useful metric and one which you can use to compare each firm to the others and get an idea of what your life would be like there.

Anon

True but there could be a lot more BD or training at HSF making the hours longer despite the 1800hrs target

Cynical associate

That’s already factored in- it makes sense to assume people work 220 days per year not including weekend work (bank holidays and 28 days of holiday take it down to a slightly higher 224 working days, but meh- you can have away days, dental appointments and repeated bouts of covid in those four days).

Your hypothetical HSF-er will therefore need to do 8.2 hours per day of billables to hit their 1800 hours target. They’re not going to be doing BD and training for 2 whole hours every single day (assuming cumulative breaks of one hour a day to take it up to 11). At most it’ll be an hour.

Ew

Ew kirkland, what life is that? Is it even worth it, it’s not like you’ll be financially free from the salary you earn

Kirkland NQ

hurr durr lambo

Anon

Why no article regarding Kirkland’s recent stealth layoffs?

Kirkland NQ

Nothing about the number of PE deals I’ve been smashing lately either.

PEPE

Not good to write about stuff that will affect Alex’s ability to grease his palms. He’ll rather publish some usual self-congratulatory HR/Grad Rec guff as per.

Al

Eep, those hours sound awful. I’m at the Bar; so it’s not like I’m unused to pulling the occasional all-nighter. But to do that day in/day out just seems like a recipe for a nervous breakdown.

I’m wondering though, how much of that is strictly necessary or is some of it performative?

I have a friend who worked at a Japanese organisation. There was a real culture there that you could not be the first person to leave the office at the end of the day. But a lot of the time people were just playing Minesweeper waiting for someone else to crack first. His team was very grateful for the lazy westerner who would just go “Sod this, I’m off” so they could give it half an hour then follow suit.

Can I call you Al?

It is largely performative. I recall a friend being criticised for coming in very early and leaving earlier than others while being there the same amount of time simply because they were not seen to be around in the evenings.

on s'en balance

A lot of the 6-7pm finishers have decent NQ salaries of £80-£90k. Is it really worth the extra 2 hours a day on average to push it up to £110k+?

Ponders

Not always the money, but the prestige and satisfaction of knowing you reached your potential and if you can hack it, provide a higher quality of life for yourself and/or those in your life.

anon

Prestige – sacrificing your social life and health so you can say the words “yah it’s quite a big US shop’ to the average person who has no idea what you are talking about.

Reaching your potential – spending 14 hours a day redlining an SPA = reaching your potential.

Quality of life – spending 14 hours a day redlining an SPA; enough said.

John

This thread is the most childish thing that I have read in a long time.

Insider

In “growth mode” firms like Goodwin or Paul Hastings associates work 15+ hours/day during the week and 8-14hours/day on weekends.

Sweatshop pit survivor

Yeah, well they don’t call it “Haul Pastings” for nothing. Awful, awful firm.

André

Mysteriously absent from Legalcheek rankings these days, which wasn’t always the case. I did notice that almost every quote from their trainees in Chambers Student ended with an exclamation mark, which was a bit worrying/cultish e.g. “The culture is great! Everyone is so friendly! I definitely get a lot of training!”

Chambers! Student! Journalist!!!

You know Chambers Student interviews are done over the phone, and in absence of an interviewee dictating punctuation mid speech, the conclusion you have drawn is hilariously flawed…

André

A fair enough point, although I think “hilarious” is pushing it…

HAUL PASTINGS LLP

Hi HR, nice of you to join us here.

Get a load of these wage slaves lmao

Seems like lawyers have some kind of degradation fetish

Why?

Why doesn’t Legal Cheek include STB in any of its stats or rankings? It’s the fourth biggest US firm now by revenue in the City and we’d benefit from more information.

Anon

Well – It’s law, if you want to earn high salaries, t’was ever thus !
I consistently worked far longer hours in- house where there’s NO escape.
Holidays ? Weekends ? Family? Forget it!

In-House Lmao

“I consistently worked far longer hours in- house where there’s NO escape.
Holidays ? Weekends ? Family? Forget it!”

Sounds like you’re a proper wage slave mug then. Well done my boy.

nick

So basically – work at a US law firm and do the job of 2 people for the pay of 2 people. Or work somewhere normal and do the job of one person for reasonable pay. I just don’t get why people want to sacrifice their entire youth for money.

your dad

because it’s a cringe website for freshers pretending to be lawyers and STB don’t take trainees

Junior MC associate

I work in a non-transactional (albeit transactional-adjacent) department at an MC firm. I rarely finish work later than 7 and frankly I’ll drag my feet half the time to avoid looking obviously lazy. I’ll happily push back on work if I think I won’t be able to do it properly because I have too many commitments, and I refuse to deal with weekend emails unless absolutely vital.

What I’m getting at is that, very often, brutal hours are a result of people choosing to live that way. Lawyers are insecure overachievers with a dangerous mix of perfectionism and desire to please. Half the time they’ll stay late because they want to be perceived as hard-working, or they’ll accept new matters because they’re too scared to say no to someone senior. And then they’ll complain that commercial law has terrible work-life balance. But another way is possible, it just requires giving a lot less f**ks than most lawyers are capable of.

lmaobantah

100% this. Most lawyers are distinctly beta male types with serious lack of self-confidence who need to puff up by slaving away for someone else and thinking they’re winning at life.

Massive wage cuck beta energy. The key is to appear busy but actually don’t really give two f*cks.

4 PQE SC

Agree with these two comments. I work hard to be a better lawyer put in the late ones when absolutely necessary but also recognise that I dont owe anyone anything for this job, im the asset and can go anywhere so I couldnt care if im let go. Makes it a lot easier to have my plans, suggest alternative deadlines and live my life. No need to be a martyr like everyone else when you can progress without it.

thoughtlaw

Would be interesting to see the breakdown of some of these for regional vs London.

Genuine K&E 5PQE

Confirming this is absolute nonsense

James

It is so important to set your own boundaries — no-one else can do that for you. I say this after doing this job for over 25 years. Nobody will care if you take time out to celebrate your mother’s birthday, as long as the work gets done. But you will care deeply if you miss her birthday (and she will care too). An employer who values you will prepared to compromise in order to keep you long-term. If your employer is not like that, then you should look around for those that are. They do exist!

Crusher

Those shirkers sloping off at 11.11pm can’t talk about crushing anything.

Oxon.

Not worth it if you aren’t making Partner IMO

Barrister

So glad I got a first so I could avoid this shite

Future commercial pupil

Because the Bar is famed for it’s consistent hours and 9-5 clock on, clock off culture?

Barrister

It’s famed for its “do whatever you like” culture, yes. Going to see a play midweek: easy. Friday plans that you can stick to: easy. If you are determined and organised, it is a breeze my friend.

Anonymous

Newsflash: solicitors can do this as well (subject to the usual stuff – as is the case for barristers too).

See Yah

Tell us what you do with your 10-12 week holiday entitlement…

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