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