The legal industry’s demands and long working hours are common knowledge. Most people – both within and outside of the industry – are aware that “full-time” for a lawyer is often more than 40 hours per week, especially at big law firms.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Normalizing hustle culture and poor work-life balance for lawyers has significant consequences, including burnout, chronic stress, mental health issues, and substance abuse.
Do lawyers have long hours? Are there options for lawyer time management and work-life balance? Let’s unveil the realities – and dispel the myths – surrounding lawyer working hours and discover solutions for a healthier lifestyle.
How Many Hours Do Lawyers Work?
Full-time hours for a lawyer are rarely the usual 40 hours. While it can differ from firm to firm, lawyers may work up to 80 hours per week.
The average work hours for different types of lawyers are:
- Large firms: 66 hours per week
- Small- and medium-sized firms: 42-54 hours per week
- Government agencies: 40 hours per week
It also differs by demographic. Female lawyers work about 100 hours more on average than their male counterparts. Older lawyers work the fewest number of hours, while younger lawyers work the greatest. This could be due to generational differences in the attitude toward long hours and discrepancies between the experiences of male and female lawyers.
Do Lawyers Have to Work Long Hours?
In most cases, yes. All lawyers, regardless of firm size or practice area, may be called upon to work long hours for a particular case. For some, working an excess of 40 hours in a work week is consistent.
Law firms can be competitive, rewarding those who put in the most time. Lawyers also have a burden of heavy caseloads and a lot of work outside of billable hours, including administrative tasks in some cases.
Issues with Lawyers Working Long Hours
Putting in extra hours for a case occasionally may not be a problem, but a heavy workload and poor work-life balance aren’t sustainable. Over time, the mental and physical exhaustion from chronic overworking can impact your health and future career if it begins to impact performance.
Lawyers are increasingly prone to health issues from stress and long hours, such as:
Burnout is more than just feeling exhausted. It’s a particular type of work-related stress that causes physical and emotional exhaustion, a sense of reduced accomplishment, and a loss of personal identity.
While it’s not reserved solely for the legal field, lawyers are susceptible to burnout. Practicing law can be stressful and exhausting in the best of conditions, and paired with an ultra-competitive professional culture and excess hours, burnout is a real threat to lawyers.
Numerous surveys reveal anxiety, burnout, depression, and substance use disorders among lawyers and legal professionals at a higher rate than the general population.
The demand for high hours is an obvious culprit, but lawyers are also at risk of mental health conditions from poor work-life balance, little leisure time, and a feeling that they’re always at the beck and call of bosses and clients.
Why Lawyers Struggle with Stress
Lawyers have a lot to manage day-to-day, including long work hours, complex cases, strict deadlines, and administrative work. Virtually all areas of law are demanding, but certain practice areas have additional stressors from high-stakes cases, such as family law, human rights law, and criminal law.
Add in constant scrutiny and a drive to succeed, never-ending conflict from opposing counsel, absorbing the burden of clients’ legal problems, constant vigilance, and possible student debt from law school and it’s no wonder lawyers are “always on” and often stressed.
How Can Lawyers Better Manage Their Time
Time management is a consistent struggle for lawyers due to the constant demands and seemingly endless tasks, but effective time management can help.
Lawyers have enough to balance with client casework. If you’re doing administrative work, you’re only cutting into your own productive time and personal time. Delegate work to trusted colleagues to free hours in your day.
Use Time Blocks
Time blocking is an effective way to prioritize and manage your time. With this method, you divide your day into different blocks of time, each dedicated to accomplishing a specific task or group of tasks.
Each week, take stock of what’s coming up in the week ahead and prioritize the most important tasks. Avoid the urge to block out time with no margin for error. At the end of each workday, review the tasks you haven’t finished and any new tasks, then adjust your remaining time blocks accordingly.
With law practice management software, you can use automation to reduce the time, stress, and errors with manual tasks and streamline your day. Time tracking software captures billable hours automatically, so you don’t miss a thing.
But that’s not all. Other law firm software automated features include calendaring, billing, document management, case management, and more, simplifying your entire workday to free your time for the work only you can do.
Work-Life Balance Tips for Lawyers
The legal industry is making a shift from a hustle culture to a more balanced environment where lawyers can meet the demands of legal practice without compromising personal wellness, but it takes work. Here are some tips to maintain a work-life balance:
Know Your Limits
The key to finding work-life balance is knowing what that balance looks like. Assess your limits and consider your maximum working hours each week that ensure you can deliver quality work without feeling overwhelmed or compromising your personal time.
Make Time for Downtime and Sleep
One of the first things to go when you’re overworked is downtime. Getting adequate relaxation time and quality sleep is essential for a physical and mental recharge to maintain your high quality of work.
Focus on Physical Wellness
Working long hours requires stamina and energy. Making time for exercise and a healthy diet can ensure you’re in the right physical condition to support the mental and physical demands of a tough workload without sacrificing performance. Along with this, avoid excessive consumption of caffeine or alcohol.
Identify Your Peak Productivity Periods
All of us have different times when we’re the most energetic or productive. Discover your peak hours to schedule time for the most complex or challenging tasks, allowing you to complete them efficiently.
Find Better Balance in Your Legal Practice
The legal field will always be demanding, but that doesn’t mean you have to compromise your mental and physical health to keep up. Effective time management with legal practice management software and self-care can reduce your long working hours to get more done while mitigating the effects of stress and burnout.
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