Lawyers 'sentenced to a life of misery'

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They are viewed as the slickest of professionals, piranhas in suits who drive smart cars and stop at nothing for their careers. But the nation's lawyers say the reality is a grim contrast, and they are so persecuted and disillusioned that most of them are looking for new jobs.

The dismal picture of life as a lawyer emerged in a survey of 700 solicitors published today in Lawyer magazine. They say that they are victims of intolerable stress and bullying in the work place; their personal lives are in tatters; and 8 out of 10 of them are looking for new jobs.

Mary Heaney, editor of Lawyer, said: "The findings reveal a disgruntled, demoralised profession. It is a stark warning that the legal profession must adapt to cater from pressures from within and outside the profession."

The survey revealed that a third of all solicitors reported encounters of bullying by senior figures; 9 out of 10 are suffering from stress; a quarter of the solicitors were prevented from taking their holiday entitlement; and 85 per cent said their profession had declined in the public eye.

Despite their ruthless image, lawyers are concerned by the low esteem in which they are held by the public.

Britain has moved in the same direction as America, where the endless jokes at the expense of lawyers recently prompted calls for them to be classed as a persecuted minority in California.

However, male lawyers in Britain acknowledged that their female colleagues had the worst deal of all. Two thirds of lawyers in private companies said that female staff had been overlooked during the selection process for full partners in law firms.

One female lawyer claimed that she was told her career would flop unless she accompanied a male client on an evening out after a meeting. The profession is currently locked in a fierce debate over the status of women in the law, with many claiming that the best jobs are still given to men.