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Nearly two-thirds of lawyers have experienced burnout, research shows

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Survey finds 31% of respondents don’t feel their wellbeing is supported by their firm

Research has found that nearly two-thirds of legal professionals have experienced burnout as a result of their work.

The research, undertaken by recruitment agency Realm Recruit, further found that 21% often feel stressed at work, with the biggest sources being an unmanageable caseload (57%) and work/life balance (42%) as well as poor management (39%). Other contributing factors included unfair pay, a lack of flexibility and a difficult commute.

Modern working practices and the move to a hybrid workplace appeared to be on many lawyers’ agendas with 80% saying that flexibility would be important to them in their next role.

The annual survey of over 200 lawyers also noted a shift in law firms’ focus, with signs of some prioritising staff wellbeing. Mental health first aiders were available at 58% of respondents’ workplaces, more than 10% higher than the previous year. Likewise, 54% now offered free or subsidised access to a counsellor, up from 47.5% in 2021.

Despite this shift, nearly a third of respondents (31%) said they didn’t feel that their wellbeing was supported by their firm.

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The report highlighted the importance of workload and suggested that not overburdening lawyers with unrealistic caseloads could be the most effective way to increase retention rates. Less critical improvements that would prove popular included paid wellbeing days (68%) and free or subsidised gym memberships (53%).

Realm Recruit’s managing director, Duane Cormell, noted that there is still some way to go, saying: “While wellbeing is certainly higher up on the agenda than ever before within the law, sadly, the results of our research indicate that there is still work to do in this area.”

Cormell also made the important point that law is a people-centric business and that in itself is an argument for keeping employees functional. “There’s undoubtedly a correlation between good mental health and employee satisfaction, engagement and productivity,” he said, “so it makes good business sense for law firms to look after the mental health of their staff.”

Last year Legal Cheek reported several City initiatives to improve lawyers’ wellbeing including Slaughter and May’s no-camera policy on night-time video calls and many firms’ attempts to introduce dogs into the workplace.

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18 Comments

Anon

It isn’t a particularly pleasant thing to acknowledge, but this is inherent in the structure of big law firms.

Unlike a profession such as medicine, where you need pretty much as many consultants as you do juniors, corporate law relies on taking a big cohort trainees in their early to mid 20s, having them do lots of quite repetitive work for 5-10 years, then by the time the original cohort are in their mid-30s, making a small percentage of them partner to do BD and strategic stuff.

In theory you could run that on a model of taking, say, 150 trainees, give them a decent but not staggering salary and relatively reasonable work life balance, do redundancy rounds every couple of years to remove lower performers and eventually get down to ten or so stars by the time a decade is up.

However, given certain costs are fixed for each employee (office space, training, IT kit etc) and redundancy requires pay offs, it’s more profitable to take 80 trainees, flog them until their eyes bleed, have people drop out through either choice or burn out and ten years later be left with ten ultra resilient stars/sociopaths to add to the partnership.

So in City law at least, lots of lawyers suffering burn out is not by accident but by design.

All b*llocks

The vast majority of mental wellbeing support at law firms is lip service. When we signed up to the mindful business charter, we had a department talk on what this means and how to prioritise wellbeing etc. The corporate partner who had championed the signing up to the charter and spouted wellbeing every chance he could get, piped up and pointed out that while this was excellent and such a great thing, to remember that we are in the business of client service and therefore do need to be available 24/7 to our clients regardless and even if on holiday, should still be checking emails at least three times a day.

Alan

Good lord the woke left really are succeeding in wrapping the young in cotton wool. In the old days the tough nature of the profession was a form of natural selection, and supervisors would intentionally make it hard for new lawyers to weed out the weak. This meant only the best lawyers could survive, leading to a better profession overall. Can you imagine being a client these days, with one of these insulated young lawyers representing you, trying to reach them urgently and being told “sorry he can’t help now, he is not feeling up to it and has gone for a lie down”. You’d immediately go to another firm.

Dunc

Get back to work, those ambulances aren’t going to chase themselves

Tuff Stuff

25 woke children with wet knickers didn’t like your sentiment.

Alan's a tw*t

I’m so tired of this horsesh*t trope of “the old days” and “how it used to be”.
Lawyers have never have such invasion into their day / personal lives. This is massively dictated by the advances in technology.
15 year ago, the work-provided phone with synced emails and case management system didnt really exist.
25 years ago, emails were rare, and if they were received did not contain hundreds of attachments. The most urgent thing was a fax.
Take it back 30 years, mobile phones, emails etc. all hardly used at all
I qualified 12 years ago. Even in that time, the pace and demand has accelerated massively.
This not wokery, but a reflection of how tech has caused the ability to make demands quicker, and to expect quicker action and responses.
The ability to manage that is a subjective issue. But it isnt woke to recognise that a lawyer, now, faces demands on time and pace far exceeding anything previously.

Anonymous

I agree with all of the above. But the flipside – as Law.com pointed out very correctly a few months ago – is that whilst 15 years ago there was less *intrusion* into lawyers’ private lives, there was also far less of a private life full stop. All-nighters and staying in the office until 10pm every single day were par for the course; whilst technology has meant that we’re now always accessible, it also means we can get away with being away from the office far more.

Most current partners (and I’m not even talking about the old ones – I’m talking about the 40-50 year olds) grew up in this work hard, play hard culture. It predominated in the City until the GFC. For them, 60 hour weeks in the office followed by getting paralytic in the pub with all your work friends, followed by turning up again on Saturday morning is just how things are supposed to be. Increasing diversity of hires, a subdued financial sector, the MeToo movement and remote/flexible working have basically killed this culture (it still survives at the very fringes of the City, particularly amongst European/North American expats).

Well well well

So new entrants to the profession were obsessed by higher starting salaries and then were not able to hack the extra hours needed to fund those salaries? Who would have thought that would happen?

Anon

Salaries are going up but junior productivity is going down, which is really interesting. A lot of the new generation in the top firms like mine for example are all about work/life balance, wellbeing, bringing your true self to work etc. but want eye watering salaries alongside (citing US firm salaries and not seeming to comprehend those US firms do not care about your wellbeing AT ALL).

Kneels Bore

It is not rocket science. To fund the ever rising starting salaries billable hours have gone up 300, 400 hours over time, but at those additional levels of work productivity craters. The obsession of starting salaries among applicants was always going to lead to a cycle of hour spiralling that was no going to end well.

Anon

Thing is that’s not always the case – billables haven’t risen in my firm. There is a higher billables target for a ‘super bonus’ but they can still get regular bonus by meeting the same target we’ve had for years. Things have just massively shifted with the way the younger generation wants to work.

Anon

Look back 10 years and see what the billable were then. Then come back to us.

Anon

@Anon 11:06 – odd comment – they are around the same? So what now?

SourLemon

@Anon 11:17am, what exactly does “around the same” mean? That’s about as vague as if it’d come from a politician..
You really can’t put a blanket comparison on billables and saying that your firm hasn’t raised their targets “much” gives more credibility to those saying it’s a major contributor to the profession being toxic.
You can’t compare the profession of 2023 to how it was in 2013 without looking at what fees were allowed, what the market was like, what was the general public’s/government’s/regulator’s view & treatment of the profession etc., you can’t just take all the variables out and say “well, nothing has changed”. As for the younger generation wanting smth different-what’s wrong with wanting to actually have a life outside work? What’s wrong with wanting to get on with your job but without being suffocated by arbitrary targets at every step? What’s wrong with wanting to be properly remunerated for the crazy hours very few lawyers ever get to escape? What’s wrong with wanting the ability to decide how you work and how much work is being thrown at you w/o the possibility to refuse it? The list goes on and on and on…
Feels like those advocating for the “good old days” would also advocate for free labour in the fields to be brought back..

Anon

This.

Many City partners are comfortable working themselves to a massive coronary at 55 in return for the mega wedge. They certainly won’t have any qualms about destroying their associates’ health in the interests of PEP.

SourLemon

I wonder how many of these copy/paste so called “news articles” will it take for something to ever actually change? Lawyers are stressed, depressed, burnt out and well underpaid for the hours they put in-big news….

B

Is there any positive news about becoming a corporate lawyer 😫

Bvv

Is there any positive news about becoming a corporate lawyer 😫

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