Lawyers twice as likely to work on days off, research finds

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Impacts mental and physical wellbeing

Legal professionals are twice as likely to work on their days off compared to employees in other sectors, new research has found, with more than a third (37%) doing so in the past year.

The findings come after an associate at US law firm Paul Hastings went viral with a list of their “non-negotiable expectations”, including that lawyers be “online 24/7” with “no excuses”. The firm said the list did “not reflect the views of the firm or its partners”.

The UK-wide study of over 1,000 workers also found that a third of legal professionals have experienced increased anxiety over the past 12 months, with 33% citing excessive stress.

Researchers further noted a whopping 76% increase in the past year in employees working through poor mental health rather than taking sick leave compared to physical illness.

Forty percent reported experiencing significant physical health issues such as back, shoulder and neck pain, which researchers attributed to “excessive sitting and screen time”.

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When asked what more firms can be doing to tackle these wellbeing issues, 40% of respondents said training managers providing better support is the answer. Thirty percent cited the better promotion of sick leave when people are struggling with physical or mental health, while 37% called for measures to prevent employees sitting for long periods of time.

Richard Holmes, director of wellbeing at Westfield Health, said: “Burnout is a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. Pressure at work is usually the main culprit and when budgets are tight and teams are small, people often find themselves with multiple roles and heavy workloads, piling on the stress.”

Some firms have taken steps in a bid to protect lawyers’ days off, with Mayer Brown‘s London managing partner Dominic Griffiths reportedly reminding colleagues last year that any planned downtime should not be interrupted or cancelled for anyone — unless it’s an emergency, of course.

Elsewhere, US outfit Orrick launched a policy that enables lawyers to put time spent on holiday towards their billable targets. This, the firm hopes, will give associates the space to “truly unplug”.

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The idea law firms will change their approach on this is for the birds.

Lawyers are charged by the unit. Whilst salaries broadly go up with hours required other costs (office space, IT, insurance, practising cert, subscriptions to resources etc) are fixed whether the lawyer works 40 hours or 80 hours. So if one lawyer on 200k can do 2,500 billable hours at £750 an hour that’s more profitable than two lawyers on a 100k doing 1,250 billable hours each at the same rate.

Throw in that clients like the continuity of having “their lawyer” and you have a recipe that incentivises firms to beast their associates if the partners want to increase drawings, and boy do they want to increase drawings.



In my experience, this is generally down to two things:

1) poor management where holiday cover and handover is not arranged for someone. It is very rare, especially as a more junior employee, that you are so vital to the deal team as to be irreplaceable on a matter.

2) the fact that so many lawyers are absolute workaholics who cannot switch off even when they are supposed to. Unfortunately many bring this on themselves by continuing to reply to emails and work even when there is no need to and handover cover could have been arranged. This is why it is difficult for the industry to move towards healthy working patterns for those who want it to.



It will never change. I’ve seen it time and time again. You see a SA being made up and you think “this one will lead the charge for change”. And within two years they’re the same as all the other partners. Money hungry, ungrateful, and pretty much miserable (with a few exceptions of course).


PP jailbreaker

In my private practice days (where I did up to 10 years PQE), I found this was often the case because of:

(i) small, overly lean teams that make it hard to properly resource matters when someone is off – particularly problematic in teams that are a collection of individuals rather than a real team, and where people have different specialisms and don’t feel they can step in;

(ii) territorial and competitive nature of lawyers – as a partner (which I never was) and a senior associate if you’re the go to person for that client you don’t give that up easily because your value to the firm is tied up in your value to the client(s). So you’re reluctant to give control to someone else, even temporarily (because you fear being displaced). Less of an issue at junior level;

(iii) getting things to a stage where you can fully handover / let things go for your holiday takes a lot of effort and is arguably not really worth doing for matters you think will just need a few emails / a bit of reading while you’re off, esp if just off for a week or less. Before every holiday in PP I would need to work some super-long hours to be able to even have the holiday (including working on long flights to finish some tasks), some things it wasn’t worth handing over because a few emails / texts would be lesser pain during the break;

(iv) clients don’t respect holidays when there is a crunch moment (and let’s face it when working in a big international firm your job is to help clients out during crunch moments) – particularly for international clients whose year is different and doesn’t have the same public holidays (a “fond” memory is of doing a call for 2 hours at a petting farm with GCC clients while my family were off seeing the animals on a Bank Holiday Monday.

thankfully I escaped and am not looking back.



brilliant comment – hit the nail right on the head



For barristers, it often comes down to clients providing information at the last minute and being asked to review/advise. If bundles/documents were provided on time, we’d all live in a legal utopia which doesn’t exist and never has. I work most Sundays, at least from 3-4pm onwards.


Criminal bar

I manage to avoid work on prearranged holiday but I do take an extra day off as a prep day when I return.

I’d say I do some work on 99% of bank holidays and weekends.

Evenings I’d say I do around 1-6 hours per evening, with the average being probably 3 hours.

I think I probably work and commute for around 60-70 hrs in a normal week. A bad week can be around 90hrs but that isn’t sustainable. A good week would be 50hrs.

This definitely impacts my health and the pay is not enough to keep me in the game doing this long term. I and almost all colleagues are branching out to other areas of work which pay better per day and for less work.

The 15% was nice but hasn’t changed things much. Inflation has eaten at least 21% (probably a lot more now taking into account the last year) of fees’ value already. Plus a 15% rise does not equate to 15% take home. To counteract 21% plus of inflation you’d need a more than 25% raise.

I’d stay in the job for 25%, guarantees on fees and inflation and improvements to working conditions. Never gonna happen though.



What percentage do your Chambers take, if you don’t mind my asking?



What’s a day off?



In other news:

Water is wet.
Pope is Catholic.
Bears Rupert in the Woods.
Snowflakes wear DryNites.



Since covid I have found everyone far more respectful of weekends and holidays.

Now if a case comes from a psycho firm, especially the US ones, I really don’t go chasing after it. I don’t need the hassle and I am not around 24/7 any more.

The result of all this has been I am making much more money now than before, and I’m a lot happier.



Ewww just makes you wanna get away with law more and more



Aren’t you expected to be 24/7 like one of those US firms?



For the US firms, join and then deliver the cancellation of the opt-out from the Working Time Directive. Work 9 to 5 and pocket the cash. Anything goes wrong just sue them for discrimination.


Law School

Such superior legal analysis neatly explains why you do not work in a US firm and took a third from Bournemouth.



Standarddd cuzzy



Source: “This report was created by disposable vape and vape kit retailer Vape Club.”



This is a dysfunctional toxic culture .
24/7 availability is damaging
Burnout is well documented and researched as causing mental and physical health problems.

Chronically ignored burnout leads to depression and sadly to suicide.
In France .. company directors were sentenced to time in person after company suicides.

Managers being supportive does nothing to ameliorate 24/7 availability or weekend working .

I believe this downright abuse .


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