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Legal Jobs: Work-life balance for lawyers

November 3, 2021 0 Comments

A recent survey has found more than half of Victorian lawyers are struggling with maintaining work-life balance. 

The focus on work-life balance that has steadily been creeping into many sectors over the past decade took on a new turn during the past 18 months. As the world navigated the Covid-19 pandemic and a range of additional pressures this brought to the professional and personal lives of many, so thoughts turned to how this was affecting work-life balance and personal wellbeing.

A Glassdoor report in mid-October 2021 –  Burnout on the Rise – compiled reviews from current and former US-based employees between March 2020 and September 2021. The more general findings pointed to an understandably pandemic-drive increase in employee burnout but also identified companies and industries where work-life balance has helped to stave this off.

Tech was the notable standout, which is unsurprising given it has a long-term reputation as being a sector that will go out of its way to attract the brightest and best in the very competitive market within which it operates. Alongside Tech, finance, real estate, insurance and, aerospace and defence ranked as the best industries for work-life balance.

On the other side of the ledger, the worst industries for work-life balance were:

  • Retail
  • Restaurants, bars, and food services
  • Transportation and logistics
  • Arts, entertainment and recreation
  • Manufacturing

Legal jobs and work-life balance

The fact that law firms did not figure at either end of the Glassdoor scale raises the question of where lawyers sit when it comes to work-life balance.

We recently reported on How top Australian law firms managed the year of Covid. One of the key themes that ran through this was an enhanced focus by some of the top-performing law firms on staff wellbeing, which will have a flow-on effect in terms of work-life balance.

While this is a positive sign for the profession, a recent survey by the Law Institute of Victoria (LIV) of 600 of its members paints a different story when it comes to the wellbeing and work-life balance of those in legal jobs.

More than half of the survey respondents said that maintaining a healthy work-life balance remained their number one challenge. This was mostly tied to managing work demands, anxiety and feeling overwhelmed, although in a positive sign, issues such as bullying, harassment and conflict in the workplace ranked lowest as affecting wellbeing.

Within the context of a global pandemic, as LIV President Tania Wolff pointed out, “The practice of law can be all-consuming…a global pandemic, lockdowns, and working from home (means) it is more important than ever to carve out time to connect with our friends and families and to invest in our wellbeing.”

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Lawyers working from home

Lawyers have traditionally worked long hours, with a 2019 report by the Association of Corporate Counsel Australia finding nearly 70% of all lawyers reported working in the range of 41-60 hours per week.

Negative aspects of the pandemic aside, there has been a positive for working caregivers from the rapid uptake in flexible and remote working arrangements in the legal profession.

Under work-from-home arrangements, some in the legal profession have found they can manage their workload better alongside caring and other household duties. This might be seen to primarily come from a reduction in the need for “presenteeism” in the workplace as it is replaced by working from home.

Challenges to work-life balance for lawyers working from home

However, there is another side to the increase in work from home and working more flexible hours during the pandemic. As the barrier between work and personal life is thrust aside, some lawyer workloads may have been negatively impacted as the inability to turn off has crept into the work practices of some.

Finding it difficult to “call it a day” due to the “always-on” work culture digital tech has introduced to many sectors and workplaces, difficulties around drawing a line between work and non-work activity have arisen as home becomes both a professional and personal space.

Burnout is also an issue, and, even as we seem to be navigating our way out of the pandemic, there still remains a reasonable degree of uncertainty. However, as working from home becomes as much the norm as from the office, and as evidenced by some law firms already focussing more on wellbeing, it can be hoped that to some degree work-life balance for lawyers will improve over the coming years.

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