Juggling a work life balance

In An Industry Renowned For Its Long Hours, How Do Legal Parents Cope? 

In November 2019, Legal Cheek undertook a survey to find the average start and finish times in the office for the year.  2,500 trainees and junior associates were surveyed at nearly 100 law firms throughout the UK. 

Most people in the legal industry know that the average working day is not 9am to 5pm, even whilst studying law the hours are long and hard; a GDL student is told in their first week that they are expected to dedicate 56 hours a week to study and research, not an easy task when you also have to work to pay the fees for the course.  

Legal Cheek’s survey found the average length of a working day for a trainee and junior associates has dropped and is now at its lowest since 2016, but still at an average of 10 hours and 15 minutes, with some firms averaging over 12 hours a day. 

President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane is concerned about the well-being of legal professionals and has become a main focus on his agenda.  Commenting on “Well-being and Family Justice System”, Sir McFarlane stated; 

Judges and courts should do a full day’s work, but no more. Time must be kept for the lawyers, the court staff and the judges to do work on other cases and, importantly, to have a life outside their work. We are all playing a long game in terms of our careers, our health, and our private and family lives. 

Although Legal Cheek’s survey was aimed at the working hours of trainees and junior associates, the working hours of more senior staff will often be more than the 8.5 hour work day many other industries follow.   

With long working hours, this can have a detrimental impact on personal and family life.  In areas of law that deal with more public matters, especially family law where a lawyer will be dealing with a person they are able to relate to, it is not easy to ‘switch off’ from their role when they leave the office for the day.   

post on LinkedIn recently caused outrage, from parents who work in the legal industry; it was a post from a founder of company that helps companies recruit workers for flexible roles, who’s friend had commented the professional was setting a bad example to juniors in her team by leaving slightly early to pick up her children.  The friend in question worked for a London law firm.   

Replies to the post had fellow ‘legal parents’ confirm that they had suffered similar attitudes in their role, making them ‘feel bad’ for having family commitments, even though they know they put in more hours during personal time over evenings and weekends.  There were however those that defended their firms, who had begun to take a more flexible approach to working hours, especially when it came to family commitments. 

One such example is Linklaters, who this month announced that from the 1st January any employee who’s partner is having a baby, adopting a child or becoming a parent through surrogacy (regardless of gender or gender identity) will be offered twelve weeks’ paid leave which can be taken at any time during the first 12 months from the arrival of their child 

Nick Porter, Partner and Chairman of Linklaters People Committee, commented: 

“This policy will facilitate and normalise both parents spending more time with their children which we believe helps to provide the best support for working families. As a father of three who could only take two weeks off each time, I am thrilled that Linklaters is now offering all parents the opportunity to spend more time with their new child.” 

We have asked a number of family lawyers how they cope with juggling long hours at work with family life, for their ways to switch off at the end of the day, and if their firms are allowing more flexibility in their hours to accommodate a family life. 

Want to have your say? Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read more stories

Join nearly 3,000 other family practitioners - Check back daily for all the latest news, views, insights and best practice and sign up to our e-newsletter to receive our weekly round up every Thursday morning. 

You’ll receive the latest updates, analysis, and best practice straight to your inbox.