Survey: solicitors healthy but workload and client expectations cause severe stress

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23 June 2014

Pressure of work: large number of solicitors report severe stress

One in six solicitors complain of being under severe stress, although almost nine out ten reported they were in good health – substantially more than workers among the general population, according to Law Society research.

While fewer than one in 10 identified changes to the legal market as the source of negative stress, more than half of those who said it was, said their stress was ‘severe’ or ‘extreme’.

The survey of the profession’s health and well-being was conducted by the Law Society in the second half of last year. It asked 2,226 practising certificate holders about their physical and mental health and found just 2% said they were in ‘fairly poor’ or ‘very poor’ health.

But almost all (96%) said they had experienced some negative stress in their working lives. About one in six (16%) said it was ‘severe’ or ‘extreme’, with women more likely to say so than men. The age groups most likely to suffer were 40-50 (21%) and over 50 (19%).

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A further half of solicitors (53%) said they experienced moderate stress.

The main causes of stress were given as workload (60%) and client expectations (42%), while of the 8% who cited changes to the legal market as a cause, more than half said their stress was severe or extreme.

Holding a senior position within a private practice was more likely to make you stressed over changes in the legal market, with 60% of solicitors citing it equity partners, 24% assistant/associates and 12% salaried partners.

The pressure of working hours was in part to blame, with 21% of those working over 45 hours a week saying they experience severe or extreme stress, compared to 8% of those working fewer hours.

Suggesting that hardly any solicitors believed their representative body could help them deal with stress, just 2% said they would go to the Law Society for help. Two-thirds said they would either consult their doctor (40%) or senior staff (25%).

The positive news was that overall 88% of PC holders said they were mentally and physically in either ‘very good’ or ‘fairly good’ health, better than the 86% saying so in 2012 and much better than the 81% of the general working population reporting good health in 2011.

However, black and minority ethnic solicitors were less likely than their white European counterparts to enjoy good health. Also, practitioners in two-to-four partner firms were significantly less likely to report good health (80%) than those working in sole practice (96%) or in the largest firms (89%).

A third of all PC holders had taken time off due to sickness in the preceding year – on average for six days, slightly higher than the UK average of 4.4 days. Almost half said they had gone to work despite in truth being too sick to do so.

For details on LawCare, the confidential health support and advice service for the legal profession, click here.

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