Solicitors score lower than the UK average on all positive measures of wellbeing, and are more likely to rate their anxiety higher, Law Society research has revealed.
Perhaps the most striking finding was that 76% of solicitors said they worked over and above their contracted hours on a regular basis.
The last time the Law Society surveyed practising solicitors, pre-pandemic in 2019, only 46% said this.
More than half (54%) said they also found it difficult to relax in their personal time because of thinking about work, compared to 38% in 2019.
The Law Society polled a representative sample of 1,961 solicitors last year and found that just over 10% had taken at least one day off work due to stress compared to only 4% in 2019.
Previously only 1% had taken two weeks off or more due to stress, but in 2022 this rose to 5%
The research tracked wellbeing using the Office of National Statistics methodology. Asked ‘overall, how satisfied are you with your life nowadays?’, solicitors scored an average of 6.65 out of 10 (10 being ‘completely satisfied’), compared to a national average of 7.54.
Solicitors responded to ‘overall, how happy were you yesterday?’ with an average of 6.49 (national average: 7.39), and to ‘overall, to what extent do you feel the things you do in your life are worthwhile?’ with an average of 6.86 (7.79 nationally).
Finally, asked ‘overall, how anxious did you feel yesterday?’, in which a low score is good, solicitors scored 4.86 against the general population’s 3.24.
In-house solicitors recorded higher wellbeing scores, and junior solicitors lower ones.
There were some more positive results – three-quarters said their considered their organisation to be a fair and equal employer (although women and those from ethnic minorities less so), while two-thirds said they were well supported in their job by their immediate manager.
Career progression was an issue for around a quarter of solicitors, while 62% said work was distributed fairly across their team.
Solicitors working at SME law firms generally gave lower workplace ratings than the overall cohort while in-house solicitors gave higher ones, with the exception of particular issues around their skills being utilised and career progression.
Workplace satisfaction was also lower in the largest 200 firms for ‘the work I do is meaningful’ (68% v 78% for all solicitors), ‘I work over and above my contracted hours on a regular basis (83% v 76% – and 86% for those in the top 50), and ‘I feel it is difficult to relax in my personal time (59% v 54%).
Solicitors from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, as well as disabled solicitors, were less likely to feel their job fully utilised their skills and abilities and that work was distributed fairly. Career progression was also rated lower by disabled solicitors.
In a separate part of the survey, 64% of solicitors said access to justice for civil and criminal matters has worsened over the past decade. Cost was given as the single biggest reason for this (cited by 69%), followed by the reduction in legal aid (64%). Court delays were next (41%).
Six in 10 solicitors though recent government policy has weakened the rule of law.
The research also showed that four in 10 solicitors have undertaken pro bono work in the last year, giving an average of 22 hours.
In-house solicitors were less likely to do pro bono work, but half were involved in diversity and inclusion work within their organisations.
Law Society president Lubna Shuja said: “We recognise there is still work to be done for all members to feel they can equally enjoy a rewarding career in law.
“We commend those working in the legal sector for the important work they do, and the solidarity shown in standing up for vitally important tenets of access to justice and the rule of law.”