Beyond the Glamour: Stress of Lawyer Working Hours May 11, 2023
It’s widely known that lawyer working hours are long and weary. It’s not uncommon for lawyers to work well beyond the standard 40-hour workweek. In fact, for many, 40 hours is just the beginning. The demands of the job often require lawyers to work nights and weekends, sacrificing personal time for the sake of their clients. The notion of a work-life balance can seem like a pipe dream in the legal profession. That’s why many lawyers might chuckle sarcastically when asked, “How many hours does a lawyer work?” The reality is that the hours can be endless, leaving little time for anything else.
Despite the glamour associated with the white-collar profession, there’s a significant issue with the normalisation of a lawyer’s long and demanding working hours. While hard work is a necessary part of any successful career, overworking is a pervasive problem in the legal profession. It leads to high levels of burnout, excessive stress, substance abuse, and mental health issues that are often ignored or brushed under the rug. Accepting long working hours perpetuates this toxic culture and fails to prioritise the well-being of legal professionals.
In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at the working hours of a lawyer and why they often extend beyond the typical 9-5 workday.
How Many Hours Do Lawyers Work?
As per Labour Market Insights by the Australian Government, solicitors work an average of 48 hours per week in their main job, which is 4 hours more than the 44 hours per week average across all occupations; however, in reality, most lawyers work far more than 44 hours each week, as the job often demands them to work nights and weekends.
Lawyer working hours can vary greatly, and there is a multitude of factors that contribute to this. Everything from the firm’s size to the specific practice area to the geographic location can play a role in determining the working hours of a lawyer, but the hours billed to clients only show part of the picture. Lawyers often work far harder than the hours they bill for.
In addition to legal work, lawyers must spend significant time on administrative duties such as invoicing, processing payments, and more. The pressure to complete things on time only adds to the already long working hours for lawyers.
Why are Lawyer Working Hours too Long?
The demanding and high-pressure nature of legal work significantly contributes to lawyers’ long working hours. The job demands acute precision and meticulous attention to detail, so taking shortcuts or rushing through tasks is not an option. The heavy paperwork load only adds to the challenge.
Legal issues that require immediate attention can arise at any moment; many clients unofficially expect that legal services will be available around the clock. The intricacy of legal work often means that handing it off to colleagues in a shift system might not be feasible. As a result, many lawyers find themselves working long hours to keep up with their workload and client demands.
Additionally, there’s the simple arithmetic of billing clients in six-minute increments – the more hours an associate works, the more revenue the firm generates. With attorneys having to work a minimum billable hours quota and completing the other non-billable work, it’s easy to see how 10 pm in the office can become the norm.
How can Long Working Hours affect a Lawyer?
Burnout: Lawyers who work long hours in high-stress environments have burnout, which can seriously affect their well-being. A recent poll conducted by Lawyers Weekly confirmed that lawyers are indeed feeling “very exhausted.” While some lawyers may know they’re working too many hours, many may only realise it or hesitate to admit it once it’s too late. Many legal recruiters and professionals have echoed a similar sentiment in recent years. According to research conducted by Gallup, if an employee works for more than 50 hours per week, it significantly increases the risk of burnout among them.
To combat burnout, lawyers and law firms must implement protective measures such as creating a culture of respect and psychological safety, providing flexible work schedules, and establishing policies for taking time off to recharge. By prioritising the well-being of their employees, law firms can help prevent burnout and promote a healthy work-life balance for lawyers.
Stress is inevitable in any profession, but it can be particularly intense in the legal field. It can be highly stressful, with high stakes, tight deadlines, and demanding clients. This can create a challenging and overwhelming environment, leading to anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. Unfortunately, lawyers also face job insecurity, high competition, and ethical dilemmas that only exacerbate their pressure. A US survey by Law360 Pulse found that 83% of attorneys report experiencing stress at some point in their work, and many are expected to take only one week or less of vacation in 2023.
Legal professionals must prioritise their mental health and well-being to avoid addiction disorders and maintain a healthy work-life balance.
How can Long Lawyer Working Hours be Reduced?
- Automate Tasks
According to Clio’s data anonymously analysed 40,000 law firms, lawyers only billed 28% of an eight-hour workday. To reduce extra-long working hours, lawyers can utilise technology to automate administrative and non-billable tasks, allowing them to work more efficiently and potentially bill more hours. Legal Tech tools help lawyers track their time in real time, streamlining their daily processes and reducing the time spent on manual time tracking.
Lawyers should communicate their workload and deadlines with their colleagues and clients to set reasonable expectations and avoid last-minute rush work.
Lawyers can prioritise their physical and mental health by taking breaks, engaging in physical activity, and practising stress-management techniques such as meditation or yoga.
- Flexible work arrangements
Lawyers can negotiate flexible work arrangements with their employers, such as reduced hours, remote work, or job sharing, to promote a healthier work-life balance. Many firms have already started mastering hybrid work arrangements as it is essential to attract and retain top talent. By offering a mix of remote and in-person work options, firms can create a more flexible environment for family-oriented staff and working parents.
- Delegating and Outsourcing:
Delegating and Outsourcing non-core legal tasks can be a strategic move for lawyers and law firms, especially for administrative work like accounting, legal research, word processing, precedent formatting, database management, and more. Not only can outsourcing free up time for lawyers to focus on billable work and client relationships, but it can also reduce costs and increase efficiency. By delegating these tasks to an outsourcing company, you can ensure that they are handled by trained professionals, leading to better work quality and faster turnaround times. Team SBA assists a wide array of law firms and lawyers with back office support services.