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A work/life balance in Law – is it only attainable outside of London?

by Heat Recruitment

Law is a profession famous for its lack of a work / life balance. New associates or trainees, while not contracted to do so, are expected to work huge billable hours for clients in their early drives up the legal career ladder. It’s no surprise, then, that lawyers are amongst the most stressed professionals in the UK.

Recent research noted that, on average, trainee and junior lawyers can be expected to work up to 12.38 hours per day… with the occasional requirement for weekend tasks. Taking the standard five-day work week into account, this equates to 61.9 hours at minimum. Even firms with contextually stellar work life balance policies can see staff working over nine-hour days.

With an average salary for first year trainees in London beginning at £40,000 per year, and factoring in no student loan repayments, this equates to just over £2,500 per month – £117 per day, or £9.45 per hour in the worst-case scenario.

Elizabath Rimmer, CEO at LawCare – an anonymous service for support in the legal community – stated: “We are aware that trainees and junior lawyers can struggle with the long, and often unpredictable, hours they can be required to work … legal professionals often feel it’s a sign of weakness to admit they are stressed.”

In the US, we now see a symptom of a much more widespread issue. According to one CEO, “Since 2010, we’ve seen a decline in the total number of law school applicants … studies have shown that individuals have different expectations and aspirations for their future. They tend to value flexibility and work/life balance, and they seek work aligned with their personal ethics.” This challenge should by no means be viewed in isolation – the same problems are apparent in the UK today.

Indeed, many law firms have now attempted to mitigate the damage caused by a poor work / life balance in law – now installing sleeping pods, staff restaurants, gyms and even games rooms in their own attempts to recreate Silicon Valley. The issue is that such initiatives mask what is a very real problem – lawyers are famously working above and beyond the call of duty and are burning out as a result.

It’s clear that the vast majority of legal professionals – both in early and more senior career stages – believe that a poor work/life balance is just part of their career choice… but does it have to be? According to The Law Society, just under 20% of the UK’s total legal workforce is based in London, and with the average rent in The City sat at £1,342 per month, legal specialists are beginning to question whether better opportunities to progress their careers exist elsewhere.

Indeed, Law students have now been advised to look outside of London for a better work/life balance, with Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield and Bristol all prime candidates due to their booming legal sectors. While many specialists believe they may ‘miss out’ on larger accounts due to working outside of London, the reality is that firms outside London are in a uniquely competitive position. By undercutting City firms, whilst still providing equal quality output, working with non-London firms is becoming a far more attractive option for prospective clients.

For legal specialists looking to grow their careers without the disadvantage of never (in some cases literally) leaving the office, it’s clear that looking outside of London is a vital decision to be made. If you’re looking to make the change, we have a huge range of legal jobs available. Get in touch – you’ll be thrilled you did.

by Dan Hazzard