Could the introduction of 4-day working weeks be a welcome antidote to the culture of overwork in the legal industry, or is the concept of a condensed week unfeasible for law firms? We discuss the facts and give guidance to the firms who might be weighing up the move…
Back in 2022, a pioneering experiment was making headlines in the professional world, as 61 UK companies trialed a four-day working week with 100% pay. The trial has widely been considered a success, with many positive impacts such as higher productivity and a 1.4% rise in revenue, a 57% reduction in staff attrition rates, and general improvement in work-life balance and mental well-being for the professionals involved. With the majority of the companies involved in the experiment opting to continue with this working pattern going forward, many wondered if other companies would soon follow suit and trial the 4-day working week for themselves.
It could be argued that the legal sector is one of the industries that would benefit most from adopting a more lenient work pattern and advocating for better balance for its workforce; burnout and overwork are common risk factors for legal professionals, with numerous studies indicating that mental health problems are a common occurrence within the profession. In October, LawCare reported a 24% increase in the number of legal professionals reaching out to them for support, stating that ‘legal professionals are finding themselves overwhelmed and stressed amid heavy workloads, unrealistic targets and a global financial crisis.’
But, for many professionals within the legal sector, the concept of a 4-day working week feels like a fantasy: the accepted norm of working unconventional hours, the emphasis on billable work, as well as the general culture within the industry all lend themselves to working a longer week rather than a shorter one. Particularly at larger corporate firms, clients will expect a certain level of service for the fees that they pay, so ensuring that the client service level remains at a high standard could be another blocker. More than this, there is also an argument that the four-day working week could merely act as an inhibitor for busy legal professionals, who would feel compelled to try and condense their already oversubscribed schedules into a smaller time frame, thus increasing the likelihood of work-related stress, anxiety, and burnout, as well as the probability of working outside of set days and hours regardless of the measures in place. All of this could explain why the campaign group behind the 4-day week trial couldn’t find a law firm that was willing to participate in the pilot.