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Are lawyers feeling increased pressure to work outside of hours?

In light of increased attention to working hours, Lawyers Weekly spoke with several managers of recruitment firms to understand if lawyers are facing increased pressures to work out of defined hours. 

user iconJess Feyder 12 May 2023 Big Law
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Lawyers Weekly’s sister brand, HR Leader, recently reported on a finding that 82 per cent of Australians feel pressured to work outside of work hours.

The LinkedIn poll conducted by Hays found that 46 per cent of respondents said they feel pressured to work out of hours regularly, while a mere 16 per cent said they have never experienced it.

Workers having the “right to disconnect” has become an increasing topic of discussion in Australia over the past few years, with laws and policies being implemented in countries around the world to safeguard employees’ rights to switch off.


The issue has become increasingly prominent in recent years, which is said to be due to increased uptake of communications technology, which has led to workers being more reachable and barriers between work and downtime being “obliterated”.

Backlash to such pressures has seen people and institutions looking towards the implementation of shorter working weeks, yet others in the legal profession have spoken out about the potential negative consequences of legislating a right to disconnect in the legal profession. 

Lawyers Weekly spoke to several legal recruiters to understand how lawyers are feeling increased pressure to work outside of hours, and if it has become an especially prominent issue against the backdrop of a looming recession.

Elvira Naiman, managing director at Naiman Clarke, said that “lawyers’ hours have always been long”. 

“Most lawyer contracts will say something like ‘your work hours will be x to y and any additional hours reasonably required to perform your job’. 

“The question may come down to what is reasonable; however, the industry agrees that lawyers need to bill at least six to seven hours per day and achieve yearly budgets of at least three times their salary,” highlighted Ms Naiman.

“So with most lawyers sitting at around 6.5 to seven hours of billable requirements, when you add mentoring for senior lawyers, BD, pro bono work, admin, lunch break etc., it’s almost impossible to get those billable hours done in under 10 to 12 hours.”

“For most lawyers, that means an 8.30am to 7.30pm day as a minimum. Add travel to the equation and it becomes a very long day,” stated Ms Naiman. 

Ms Naiman noted that the higher the position, the longer hours become.

The pressure on international and top-tier lawyers becomes greater with tighter deadlines, larger clients and larger work, which can sometimes mean being in the office for very long hours in busier stretches,” she explained. 

However, she noted that this experience has been consistent over the years.

“This hasn’t changed much in the last 20 years. 

“With many lawyers now enjoying one to three days’ work from home, most firms will agree that as long as the billable hours are maintained, there is no pressure above and beyond those faced in the pre-pandemic world,” she said.

Alex Gotch, director at Beacon Legal, also spoke to Lawyers Weekly on the topic.

“It is well reputed that lawyers work long hours, and there are high demands on their time,” he highlighted. 

“It is not unusual for a lawyer to work deep into the night on most nights of the week. 

“At some law firms, this can be an expectation, as it is imperative that client demands, even if unrealistic, are met.”

Mr Gotch offered a different perspective from Ms Naiman, noting that the increased pressure to work out of hours has reached a new level. 

“We have heard from many lawyers that the ability to work from home and advancement in communication technology has increased the expectation to an even higher level than before,” he said.

“This was especially relevant during the boom M&A period in 2021 and the first half of 2022, when corporate lawyers struggled to achieve a healthy work/life balance, as they were so busy, and law firms were so understaffed with a mass exodus of lawyers relocating overseas to London and the US.”

“As the market has cooled off since mid-2022, the overall sentiment is a sense of welcome relief, as many lawyers feel like they need to recalibrate after such an intense working period,” Mr Gotch added. 

Daniel Stirling, Australian director of G2 Legal, echoed that lawyers, particularly those in private practice, are known to work long hours.

“There are a range of reasons behind this, including their often perfectionist nature, heavy workloads and challenging billable hours targets,” he highlighted. 

Mr Stirling echoed Mr Gotch’s view that the pressure to work longer has increased. 

“I have spoken to many lawyers who have found that this has increased post-pandemic partly because they are working from home more often and find it more difficult to stop and switch off at the end of the day,” explained Mr Stirling. 

“This has also been accentuated by the booming legal jobs market and resulting talent drain to other firms, in-house teams and overseas. 

“Many legal teams have lost team members at the same time that workloads have increased, creating more pressure to do more work with less resources.”

Mr Stirling noted: “I haven’t seen any additional pressure relating to a potential recession at this stage, though this could become a factor if headcount is reduced going forward.”

“On a positive note, though, the greater flexibility on offer has allowed lawyers to enjoy other aspects of their life whether that is spending time with family or pursuing other interests, despite the fact that they may also be working outside normal hours,” he said. 

“In addition, the time saved in the daily commute offsets some of the additional work that has been generated.”