Young lawyers pushing back at hours they are expected to work

On the clock: Young lawyers want to work fewer hours

Pressure from managers or other colleagues is the biggest and still growing concern for young lawyers, who are pushing back on the hours they are expected to work, a report has found.

Researchers also said the number of hours junior lawyers were expected to work and the hours they were prepared to work were becoming “increasingly mismatched”.

Legal resourcing business Flex Legal, in association with training and consultancy firm O Shaped and financial training specialist Wealthbrite, gathered over 630 responses from paralegals, trainee and young solicitors, legal technologists and apprentices for The Future Lawyers Report 2023/24.

Flex Legal was purchased by London law firm Mishcon de Reya earlier this month.

Asked about their biggest concern/frustration with a career in the law, the largest proportion of young lawyers, 43% chose “pressure from managers/other colleagues”. This came marginally ahead of “the time it takes to qualify”.

Smaller proportions, just under 40%, were concerned about working hours and misalignment with firm values, while the difficulty of the work and about lack of career progression were lesser but not insignificant worries.

Researchers said the proportion citing pressure from managers had almost doubled since a similar survey in 2022 – “an increase that is hard to ignore”.

Researchers said there had also been an increase, from 33% to 46%, in those unwilling to work more than 30-40 hours a week, against a background where more than half (52%) thought they were expected to work 40-50 hours.

The minority of lawyers prepared to work over 50 hours a week fell this year from 18% to 9%, in what researchers described as a “significant shift”.

“The hours employers expect and what junior lawyers are willing to work are becoming increasingly mismatched.”

The data pointed to a “generation of lawyers who are not willing to accept the pressure that working in the legal profession often brings. At least not to the detriment of everything else.”

Meanwhile, Flex reported a “seismic shift” in the proportion of young lawyers saying that alignment with firm values would encourage them to stay at their firms, from only 3% to 45% this year.

However, the most important factor by a long way was the “potential for career development”, with 63% of young lawyers mentoring it.

After firm culture, a competitive salary was the next most important factor, cited by almost 40% of young lawyers, followed by “personal belief in the organisation’s ESG strategy”, good wellbeing benefits and good financial benefits.

In what researchers said “may reflect a desire and a hope for more stability”, the proportion of young lawyers who saw themselves as staying in their current role for less than a year fell from 20% in 2022 to only 11%.

The proportion of those expecting to stay at their firms for two to five years increased slightly to 65%, with a fifth saying they expected to stay for five to 10 years.

The report said many of the respondents saw law as a “useful stepping stone” to other careers, such as politics, business and enterprise, HR, and risk and compliance.

This suggested junior lawyers did not see law as “a career for life”, with only 4% expecting to stay in their roles for more than a decade.

The most popular place to look for new roles was LinkedIn, mentioned by 39% of young lawyers, followed by law firm websites with 15%, Instagram on 14% and job websites on 13%.

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