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Majority of lawyers taking fewer holidays post-pandemic

With inflation rising by over 7 per cent this year, it’s unsurprising that many Australians are cutting back on overseas travel. Lawyers, however, have reported taking fewer holidays in general.

user iconLauren Croft 21 July 2023 Big Law
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Last month, a Finder survey of 1,079 people found that 37 per cent of people now see a trip overseas as unaffordable, in line with the cost-of-living crisis and rising inflation, as well as the cash rate consistently increasing. In a separate survey by Southern Cross Travel Insurance, 87 per cent of Aussies planned to travel this year, but 83 per cent noted that they would have to cut back on holiday spending.

In addition, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) figures show that there were 1,563 overseas departures in June 2023, compared to approximately 1,800 in June 2019, pre-pandemic.

A poll from LinkedIn News Australia confirmed this trend, with 23 per cent of 2,470 respondents stating that they were only headed on domestic trips and 56 per cent delaying travel plans altogether.


Following this, Lawyers Weekly recently asked its audience, via a LinkedIn poll, if they were also taking fewer holidays in the post-pandemic age, with 59 per cent confirming that they were.

At the time of closing, the results were as follows:

Of 598 respondents, 59 per cent said they were taking fewer holidays and breaks in the post-pandemic age, 30 per cent said they weren’t, and 11 per cent said they were taking the same amount of holiday in 2023.

The LinkedIn poll is, of course, not a scientific study and should not be taken as such. However, it does offer an insight into the mindset of Australian lawyers and how much they are travelling in 2023, amid rising inflation levels and declining legal salaries.

As previously reported by Lawyers Weekly’s sister brand, HR Leader, December 2022 saw the lowest monthly rise in advertised salary growth since pay packets went up during April–May 2022, with salary growth climbing 0.3 per cent month on month since then.

Following this, legal salaries were reported to be slowing down compared to the “boom period” of 2022 – with Empire Group director Alison Crowther noting that law firms “have had enough” of the high salary expectations.

“They have had more performance management since taking on candidates that are earning beyond their capability. The equation just doesn’t work if the candidates can’t deliver,” she told Lawyers Weekly in February.

“I think we see a slowing of high salaries paid, and hopefully, this will filter to the candidates and their expectations.”

Why might lawyers be travelling less?

Despite the statistics, Major, Lindsey & Africa Sydney managing director Ricardo Paredes said that in his experience, lawyers’ salaries will still allow them to travel as much or as often as they wish.

“Contrary to the results shown in the poll, I have found that many lawyers in my network (including partners) are taking holidays and travelling overseas on holiday this year. The vast majority, however, are younger lawyers in their second-to-eighth year of practice, which is a segment of the Australian legal market that has historically travelled extensively overseas. All the lawyers I refer to work at large law firms across Australia,” he explained.

“I think inflation and average pay raises this year may impact some lawyer’s decisions regarding whether to prioritise travel or not. However, commercial lawyers are some of the highest paid professionals in the country, and many, although not all, will continue to enjoy having the option of flying overseas on break if they so wish.”

Conversely, Garland Hawthorn Brahe lawyer Stefanie Costi opined that reduced travel in lawyers could be linked to multiple factors, including “smaller pay rises, inflation, and the ever-mounting cost of living”, as well as firms minimising travel expenses as a form of cost-cutting.

“Undoubtedly, the post-pandemic era has sparked a profound transformation in the legal industry, with lawyers travelling significantly less. This sweeping change has been driven by the swift integration of cutting-edge virtual alternatives like Microsoft Teams, Skype, and Zoom, along with the widespread adoption of remote work practices.

“Embracing this digital revolution has rendered conventional travel obsolete, empowering lawyers to engage seamlessly with clients and colleagues from any corner of the globe, around the clock,” she added.

“As health and safety concerns persist, firms are prioritising the safety and wellbeing of their legal professionals by fostering a work environment that values virtual meetings over in-person travel, granting lawyers precious moments with their loved ones, all while maintaining unwavering productivity and exceeding client expectations.”

Kozarov Lawyers principal director Zagi Kozarov echoed a similar sentiment – and said that while hybrid working has helped many lawyers manage their workloads, more work on mental health in the profession is needed, as well as a push for taking proper holidays and time off.

“The pandemic has seen a rapid development of flexible and remote working arrangements for lawyers; hence, many lawyers may be travelling less to and from the office post-pandemic. In my opinion, this has helped lawyers manage their workloads in the legal profession. Technological advancement has helped workplaces adopt flexible working arrangements and policies.

“High inflation, wage pressures and rising costs of living are affecting many businesses. The legal profession is subject to those same conditions. Increased costs continue to put pressure on profitability. In our profession, the almighty billable hour has been the only way to measure productivity, which doesn’t create healthy habits for lawyers,” she explained.

“Perhaps we need to push for less billable hour targets as a way to help the growing mental health issues in our profession. However, I am well aware that these matters are entirely a business decision in the hands of the partners. It should be noted that billable hours in themselves are not inherently a mental health risk on their own.”

Lawyers still being overworked

In May this year, it was revealed that 82 per cent of Australian workers were feeling pressured to work additional hours — with legal recruiters at the time confirming that “lawyers’ hours have always been long”.

As reported by Lawyers Weekly last month, working more than 50 hours is fairly common in the legal profession due to a variety of factors, including client expectations, the need to meet billable hour targets, the competitive nature of the industry, and the complexity of legal matters, Crossover Law Group founder and principal solicitor Marial Lewis explained at the time.

“In many traditional law firms, billable hours are the metric to measure productivity and revenue generation, a sad reality for many. This can create pressure on lawyers to work longer hours to meet or exceed billable hour targets set by their employers. The expectation to be available and responsive to clients, even outside regular business hours, can further contribute to the need for longer workweeks,” she said.

“In non-traditional law firms, there may also be expectations to work long hours to build a new practice or take it to the next level. Lawyers must be cautious about environments that claim non-traditional methods but still expect long hours in other ways.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has also brought its own set of challenges. While remote work and flexibility have become more prevalent during the pandemic, it has also blurred the boundaries between work and personal life for many lawyers. With increased accessibility through technology, lawyers may feel a heightened expectation to be available and responsive, leading to longer hours worked.”

This came after 83 per cent of Lawyers Weekly’s audience admitted that they were “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to work while on leave. Similarly, a number of small firm owners told Lawyers Weekly earlier this year that taking a holiday as a business owner was no easy feat, with opportunities to take a proper break few and far between.

“Unfortunately, we live in a culture where money making is equated with success. Perhaps we need to reconsider our own personal definitions of success. Is it making as much money as possible? Or is it about having a bit less money but less stress, pressure and a more balanced life?” Ms Kozarov added.

“I am not sure that the profession is ready for this yet given our culture, but to me and from my own personal experiences as a lawyer, true leadership on mental health from a legal perspective would mean working less hours and focusing on the importance of annual leave and having the option of negotiating five or six week’s annual leave instead of four in a profession such as law.”

Additionally, Ms Costi said that firms should not confine leave to specific peak periods such as Christmas and Easter – and instead foster a “thriving work environment by offering flexible leave policies and ensuring seamless coverage during absences, thereby allowing lawyers to rejuvenate without compromising exceptional client service”.

“Taking leave is of paramount importance for lawyers to safeguard their wellbeing and sustain peak performance. But, most importantly, it protects lawyers from the deleterious effects of exhaustion and safeguards against bullying and harassment, which can manifest when fatigue takes its toll.

“Regular leave enables lawyers to recharge physically, mentally and emotionally, ultimately enhancing their overall effectiveness and fostering creativity. Firms can actively support this by cultivating a culture that values work/life balance and encourages the frequent utilisation of leave days throughout the year,” she added.

“The post-pandemic era has ushered in a new dawn for lawyers, transforming how they work, interact, and find balance. Embracing digital alternatives, preserving wellbeing through regular leave, and staying ahead of the technological curve are now the cornerstones of success for lawyers and firms alike. By embracing these pillars, the legal industry stands ready to redefine excellence and chart an inspiring future of legal practice.”