How Many Hours a Week do Lawyers Work?

How Many Hours a Week do Lawyers Work?

June 21, 2022

Law is one of the most profitable businesses and has been for quite some time. The hard work of lawyers is narrowly connected to their reputation, knowledge, social and emotional intelligence, as well as numerous business opportunities. However, because of all these things, we have to know – how many hours do lawyers work?

This question doesn’t only refer to standard working hours. It poses many other implicit questions, like the nature of the work-life balance of lawyers, the court system that demands a great amount of overtime, etc.

We are going to divide this article into two distinct parts. Firstly, it is never too early to start investigating the ins and outs of your potential career. That is why we are writing this article with law students and people considering going to law school in mind. Yet, if you have worked in the field for a while, you know exactly how much work and dedication it takes. However, you may be wondering about global trends. This is especially important if you are considering changing firms. That is why the second part explains how many hours do lawyers work and how to manage the stress of long hours.

How Many Hours a Week do Lawyers Work

Just Starting – a Guide for New Graduates

Finding that first job in law can be difficult. Additionally, the working conditions and hours can be taxing if you’ve had no previous experience in law. To put it simply – if you are just starting your career in law, you may find yourself overwhelmed with work.

This is especially prominent when it comes to working for large law firms, as opposed to the public sector. More specifically, both the quantity and quality of work can be harrowing for a newly graduated legal assistant.

You will need to work a bit harder at the beginning of your career, this may be increased by the type of tasks you will be assigned. There will not be any big court cases for you for a while. The initial work will be related to answering phones and taking notes.

New graduates wondering how many hours do lawyers work will quickly learn the normal hours don’t apply to them either. They will be asked to stay longer at the offices and complete paperwork as well. This is the normal course of action in law firms.

Building a Career

Writing down times and requests is hardly the glamorous lawyer life you’ve worked so hard for in school. Yet, it is a necessary part of any lawyer’s career. It doesn’t matter which branch of law you want to work in – procedural, penal, civil, or something else, this is how you’ll start. However, this period doesn’t last forever.

If you are diligent in your work, or even decide to take on more courses, you will move forward in your career. We know the additional courses will only add to your already long hours, but they will help you prepare for the work you want to do. Understanding the inner workings of a law office will help you obtain the experience needed to navigate your career.

Many law firms are starting to turn to a less hectic business model, even when it comes to their junior members. Simply put, many new firms offer shorter working hours and are attracting more talent that way. In turn, older firms have to keep up with this new model.

The shift from the overworking culture of yesterday has been felt by many. Simply put – many young professionals (in all areas, not just law) are looking for a work environment that will let them dedicate enough time to family, friends, hobbies, and rest. Hence, you shouldn’t worry about having to work long hours forever.

Lawyers vs the 40-Hour Work Week

If you’d ask anyone in the field how many hours do lawyers work, they’d probably tell you a 40-hour work week isn’t enough. This comes from the understanding of law as different from other office jobs. On one hand – law isn’t an office job per se. On the other – the hours don’t need to be as long as it is presented.

If we truly want to know why so many lawyers work serious overtime hours, we need to get their perspective. Many lawyers consider their work more important than some mundane office job. While this may be true, the questions arise – do you really need to take up such long hours to be successful in your work? Are flexible working hours so unobtainable?

There is no solid answer to these questions. A lot of it depends on the firm you’re working in, the difficulty of your cases, as well as the clients you’re taking on. It is not unheard of for large-firm as well as private practice lawyers to pull 80-hour work weeks. You’ve read that correctly – twice the usual working hours.

Why Such Long Hours?

Billable hours are the biggest reason for lawyers having to work such long hours. Namely, there is a large difference between the hours a law firm charges its clients and the actual hours worked. The non-billable hours in a law firm include case preparation, administrative tasks, meetings, and calls, as well as simply going from the office to the court.

That is to say, meeting billable hour requirements isn’t as simple as working a case and calling it a day. Lawyers have to make sure every step of the way meets the law requirements to ensure their work is valid.

How Many Hours Do Lawyers Work and How Does It Affect Their Health?

You have seen the TV shows and movies and longed for the life of a lawyer. However, most artistic representations fail to show the negative side of the job. Many law firm employees struggle with constant overworking and burnout. They don’t have the days off that other professions with long hours usually do, but have to show up at the office every day, often on the weekends as well.

This lifestyle, when uninterrupted, has a tendency to negatively affect a person’s mental health. This, further, leads the employee into different mental health issues, and – in some cases – substance abuse that can be detrimental.

Simply put, humans aren’t meant to work for 16 hours a day. Even if it’s relatively easy at first, keeping up this tempo, in the long run, most often seriously affects a person’s well-being. Especially so if said work is as stressful as a lawyer’s.

Are there any Benefits?

If you’re discouraged by how many hours do lawyers work – don’t fret. Things are starting to change in this industry.

However, let’s first talk about the benefits of long hours. You don’t have to go to the extreme and work 16-hour days. Even when your overtime is “only” a couple of hours a day, you will get paid significantly more. The reason for this is the fact that overtime has to be compensated at a higher rate – most often it is 1.5 of the regular pay. Using an overtime calculator can help you take note of all your working hours with accuracy.

The monetary aspect isn’t the only benefit of working overtime. If you are just starting your career, these hours will help you learn the ropes of your first workplace quicker. They can also teach you how to be more productive and efficient in your work. These skills will certainly come in handy later on in your career.

Additionally, once you get in a position (or a different firm) that doesn’t have such long hours, you can use the previously obtained skills to manage your time most effectively.

How to Combat Long Hours?

There are ways to reduce the damage of overworking. Yet, it takes some time, energy, and a good plan. That is to say, the road will be long and difficult, but balancing your obligations and your personal time is possible.

Diet and Exercise

Taking care of yourself starts with taking care of your body. Make sure to eat well, with a lot of diversity. Work-related stress may result in either overeating or not eating enough. No matter the situation, you should start gradually improving your eating habits.

Anyone wondering how many hours do lawyers work and hearing the hard truth can be discouraged from going to the gym. Again, we recommend increasing your level of physical activity gradually. It doesn’t have to be a huge step, since even taking a short walk each day can help your overall well-being.

Mental Health

Taking care of your mental health should be your top priority. Long hours and stress lawyers usually face can take a serious toll on anyone’s psyche. That is why it’s important to find some time for peace and relaxation. Set aside a period dedicated only to yourself as often as you can and do your favorite activities in that time.

We don’t want to minimize the effect of overworking and burnout. Hence, if you are suffering from long-term issues related to your work, we urge you to seek advice from a medical professional.

Social Connections

Many lawyers look at their lives at some point and see they only keep in touch with their business contacts. We’re not saying that you can’t develop real friendships at the office, but the Venn diagram of your friends and colleagues shouldn’t be a circle. Remember to go out and have fun from time to time.

Know Your Boundaries

We all have different thresholds when it comes to working. You shouldn’t be overstepping yours. Of course, you will have to make some adjustments when it comes to big cases, but you should know where your boundaries are. Then you will need to communicate them to your higher-ups and make sure they don’t overstep them either. Standing by how much you can work is crucial to your well-being. It will also show that you are dedicated to your work and yourself. Hence, it is important to stand by your work, or you’ll be exploited later on.

To Conclude

A career in law offers great benefits and the possibility to grow and develop. However, you will have to be prepared to work some truly grueling hours to make sure that your career doesn’t fall off track. You will need to learn your boundaries and how to take care of yourself. This only comes with work experience and being in the field.

Working and learning through your work are great ways to ensure your physical and mental health remain as intact as possible. if your work is threatening to consume every other aspect of your life, you will need to remember – you can’t do any good for your clients if you aren’t well enough yourself.


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