Work-Life Balance & Law Firms: An impossible dream?

December 9, 2021


3 min read

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What's going on here?

For those entering the legal profession, the possibility of a good work/life balance is usually accepted as unattainable. The legal profession has long had the reputation of extensive hours with little to no downtime. Whilst many have accepted this as an unavoidable aspect of a legal career, it seems that things are changing.

Striking the balance

Research undertaken by Realm Recruit shows that flexible working and wellbeing have overtaken pay as a priority for lawyers, particularly millennials. This reflects the generational change within the sector with law firms making many positive changes to reflect these new priorities. In fact, many law firms have begun placing a greater emphasis on employee welfare by offering greater flexibility and encouraging employees to focus on their mental wellbeing. For example, Irwin Mitchell has started allowing employees to take wellbeing days in order to recharge. Further, law firms such as Taylor Wessing and Linklaters have provided employees with access to wellbeing apps such as Headspace and BetterSpace to improve employee mental health. These examples show law firms taking concrete steps to improve employee wellbeing. 

Legal Cheek’s annual “Firms Most List” has revealed those firms who provide the best work/life balance as voted by trainees and junior lawyers. Those who scored an A* in this category are:

  • BLM
  • Bristows
  • DWF
  • Forsters
  • Gateley 
  • Irwin Mitchell
  • Hill Dickinson 
  • Kingsley Napley
  • Mills & Reeve 
  • Russell-Cooke
  • Shakespeare Martineau
  • Shoosmiths
  • Womble Bond Dickinson

Unsurprisingly, many of those who scored highest in this category are those firms who have a number of regional offices which are notorious for a better work/life balance than their London counterparts. However, more surprising is the presence of city firms such as Bristows. When deciding between law firms, conventional wisdom dictates avoiding magic circle firms and city giants if you want to finish work at a reasonable hour. High street firms or inhouse practices are usually viewed as offering greater flexibility. Whilst it can’t be said that a work/life balance is guaranteed in such firms, the type of work undertaken is usually less demanding in terms of tight deadlines that require all-nighters. Despite these historical trends, the shift in prioritisation of employee wellbeing seems to have impacted the majority of firms operating within the UK.

Looking forward...

This prioritisation appears to have received a major boost from the impact of Covid and the current remote working environment. Since the merging of “work life” and “home life” as a result of working from home, the need for a separation of the two appears to have become more apparent. With many experiencing fatigue and burnout during the pandemic, providing flexibility to allow employees to focus on their mental wellbeing became increasingly important to law firms.

 This trend has appeared to continue since the reopening of offices with most firms encouraging remote working for at least one day a week. The continued flexibility regarding remote working has received positive responses from those within the legal profession, especially those with childcare responsibilities. This has the potential to improve gender diversity within the profession; with greater flexibility, women are less likely to exit the profession due to family and care commitments.  

Whatever the reason for the greater flexibility and thus work/life balance within the legal sector, it is certainly a positive shift for the wellbeing of lawyers. Only time will tell whether this promising trend will remain an integral part of the legal industry or fizzle out as we emerge from the pandemic.

Report written by Nell Pringle

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