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How is stress affecting lawyers?

Posted by: Laurence Simons 05/06/14

To some extent, legal workers have always accepted a degree of stress in the workplace as one of the hurdles they need to leap in order to earn lots of delicious money.

While this might have led to a few late-night commitments to moving to Tripoli and becoming a captain of a fishing boat, these were generally recanted in the morning as lawyers realised that their job, while difficult, is also prestigious and well-remunerated.

But there is no doubt that the sector has become even more high-pressure in recent years, with teams shrinking and workloads expanding, both in the private and in-house arenas.

In theory, technology should be cutting down on the amount of busy-work legal staff face - but this has not always been the case.

Recently, Lawyer 2B’s Stress in Law Survey highlighted the "intense" nature of the environment faced by many legal professionals, especially in the notoriously high-octane world of private practice.

Worryingly, a fifth of respondents admitted to working between 56 and 65 hours a week, although only two per cent were clocking in at 75 or more.

In general, the longer the hours someone spent at the office, the more likely they were to feel stressed or over-worked.

Interestingly, nearly 70 per cent of magic circle lawyers felt their senior management team encourages work-life balance, but only a minority believed them to be sincere in these pronouncements.

For US firms sectored in London, the picture is subtly different - little or no lip service is paid to the idea of balancing life commitments with work, with companies seeing the current situation as largely acceptable.

Although the more prestigious organisations had processes in place for managing stress among employees, this was not reflected in high street or boutique law firms.

"There is the usual unspoken approach that if you have a pain in your body it must be treated immediately with all medical care available to man but mental health is seen as being a completely separate issue," said one anonymous respondent.

Ultimately, it appears more needs to be done to tackle stress and over-work among legal professionals.