Law: Can't take the stress, M'Lud

Burn-out is a serious problem for today's lawyers.

RESEARCH PUBLISHED by the US-based consultancy the Great Work/ Life Debate and the magazine Management Today shows that English lawyers take more time off for personal reasons than any other professional group. Lawyers made up 18 per cent of the 5,500 respondents to the survey, which showed that 28 per cent of lawyers took off more than four days a year for personal reasons compared with an average across the professions of 22 per cent.

The survey also found that more than two-thirds of lawyers would take a cut in salary in exchange for a better balance between work and outside life, compared with just a quarter in the national average.

The consultancy's chief executive, Liz Bargh, comments: "This will hit a nerve with many people; these are highly capable professional people keen to give the outward appearance of keeping control. Yet the sacrifices some are making for the sake of their careers are shocking."

The life of a young City lawyer in the Nineties has become more like the life of a City trader during the booming Eighties. Many solicitors are happy now to sell themselves to clients as superlawyers who can go days without sleep to complete a deal or win a case. The work-hard culture in some law firms means that lawyers will even compete with each other to leave the office last. Stories abound of solicitors keeping computers switched on all night just to give the impression that they are still in the building.

And figures compiled recently by the personnel departments of some of the leading City law firms show that stories of overworked lawyers are not apocryphal; the firms are struggling to hang on to assistant solicitors. Turnover rates among the worst affected firms are as much as 40 per cent. Many are falling victim to burn-out and high levels of stress.

The City's largest firm, Clifford Chance, now operates an in-house stress- counselling service for those lawyers who may have done one deal too many. A managing partner, Tony Williams, whose own firm has an assistant solicitor turnover rate of between 22 and 24 per cent, says: "We want to do our best so that people do not suffer burn-out. We want to help them manage the level of work they can handle."

But he acknowledges that the top 10 law firms are facing an exodus of young lawyers from the City. "There are high pressures in the top firms, and it is clearly an issue in relation to retaining people, but hours are not the overriding factor."

The firm now carries out extensive exit interviews of departing lawyers. These show that many lawyers are deliberately opting for different lifestyles. "Some decide they simply don't want City life. Very few go to our major competitors. The pressure issue is recognised as applying to all the major law firms, not just one or two."

Barry Pritchard, co-ordinator of Solcare, the Law-Society-funded charity for solicitors with alcohol or drug problems, says many solicitors cope with stress by becoming dependent on drugs or alcohol.

He warns that City law firms which allow their solicitors to work 36 hours without sleep are storing up trouble. "Not only are they putting the health of their lawyers at risk, they could also be running the risk of serious errors being made, which can cost big money."

Mr Pritchard advises lawyers caught up in gruelling monotonous deals to go home and grab a couple of hours' sleep. "If someone is going to carry on working non-stop for 48 hours, the quality of their work is going to be pretty abysmal."

Clifford Chance's Williams argues that because of client demands, it is difficult to ensure that lawyers can always take proper breaks during deals or major litigation. A psychologist, Dr David Lewis, has carried out a detailed comparative study of the pressures under which professionals work. It showed that only doctors and air traffic controllers experience more stressful working lives than lawyers.

Dr Lewis says that in his study, it was the assistant solicitors who experienced the greatest level of stress because they had little control over their working environment. Many felt the greatest stress came from having to justify themselves in terms of billing power, and many thought that doing "pro bono" legal work would at least provide some benefit in terms of personal satisfaction.

The ones to benefit from all this angst and burn-out have been the larger regional law firms who have been cashing in on the solicitor fall-out from the London City firms. Last year, Birmingham firm Wragge & Co tried to tempt City lawyers with an ad campaign that sold Birmingham as the place where was more quality of life. Ex-City lawyer David Barron, who is now at Wragge & Co says: "I want to be able to see people during the week and have some sort of life. At the weekend, I want to be in the countryside rather than face a two-hour slog on the motorway."

And at the Tunbridge Wells firm Cripps Harries Hall, managing partner Jonathan Denny says: ""In spite of the very high pay, there is a widespread disenchantment with the City. The pressures are excessive and people wise up to that sooner or later. But he warns that City lawyers should not regard regional practices as a soft option. "Sometimes they think they are coming for a quiet life, and they may not be working quite the same hours - but it's not going to be straight 9am to 5pm, either."

And an indication of where over-stressed lawyers may be headed in the future is in the top 10 wish-list which Management Today compiled from its survey. For lawyers, topping the list was working fewer hours, and working from home.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing