Given the uncertainty that characterised the global economy for much of 2002/2003, it should come as no surprise that some lawyers found their stress levels increasing over that period. At least, that was the experience of slightly more than half the respondents to a recent pay and work conditions survey of practitioners in NSW. [See related stories in news and in-house sections].
External factors are undoubtedly only one of the reasons for the finding — there is a wide range of other factors, considered elsewhere in the survey, that likely also played a role. Nevertheless, it is timely to note that 54.3 per cent of the 1,898 respondents indicated the level of stress they experienced in their role in the previous 12 months had increased. Of the other respondents, 32.2 per cent said their stress levels had stayed the same, while 13.5 per cent said they had decreased.
A clear majority (72 per cent) believes solicitors experience more stress than other professions, while 27 per cent said their levels of stress were the same. Only 1 per cent, however, said solicitors experience less stress than other professions.
The findings form part of the 2003 Remuneration and Work Conditions Report, prepared for the Law Society of New South Wales by a human resources consulting firm. The almost 2,000 respondents, a majority of whom worked in private practice in central Sydney, are relatively representative of the legal profession when broken down by private practice (71.4 per cent), corporate (13.5 per cent), government (12 per cent) and “other” (3 per cent) legal sectors. The average age of respondents was 34.
There were 1,305 respondents who submitted data on their income for 2002/2003 and the survey found 52.8 per cent indicated they had earned between $50,000 and $100,000. Within that majority, 17.3 per cent were earning $50,001-$60,000, 16.3 per cent were earning $60,001-$75,000 and 19.2 per cent were on $75,001-$100,000.
Despite the findings regarding stress, however, a majority of survey respondents indicated they were either “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their position. Quality of work — with which 27 per cent were very satisfied and 51.2 per cent were satisfied — along with level of autonomy and client contact were aspects of work with which participants were most happy; work-life balance, mentoring and also salary (7.4 per cent very satisfied, 42 per cent satisfied) were the areas of least satisfaction.
A majority of survey respondents said their access to training and CLE programs was either excellent or very good — possibly reflecting the development and greater availability of online services in this area. Only 11 per cent indicated they had found access to be “fair” or “poor”, representing a drop from 15 per cent in 2002 and 17 per cent in 2001. The researchers warn against making year-to-year comparisons because of variables that might skew such an analysis; however, it will be interesting to see whether practitioners’ satisfaction with access to training programs continues to increase — particularly in light of development of the national legal profession.
Access to flexible work options has increased over the past few years, according to the survey, although the percentage of employees that take advantage of these options remains low. With work-life balance one of the areas of work with which practitioners said they were least satisfied, this raises the question of how much flexible options such as job sharing can contribute to a healthy work-life balance — or whether the options on offer are in fact the ones of most value to lawyers.
Forty-four per cent of respondents said their firm had a written flexible working policy, 31 per cent indicated a written policy was not available at their firm, and 26 per cent said they did not know.
Family emergency leave was the most offered flexible work option, with 58.6 per cent of respondents indicating availability and 21.1 indicating they had accessed it. Other popular options include: flexible hours (50.2 per cent offered, 32.9 per cent accessed), use of sick leave to attend family commitments (46.5 per cent offered, 14.9 per cent accessed) and part-time work (43.9 per cent offered, 11.5 per cent accessed).
Other options, however, have attracted considerably less interest. Job sharing, for example, was reported available by 22.7 per cent of respondents but only accessed by 2.3 per cent while paid paternity leave was offered at the firms of 18.7 per cent of respondents but only accessed by 1.7 per cent.