The 15-Hour Workdays And Ongoing Issue of Lawyer Burnout

stress levels of young lawyers

And how the world’s biggest law firm is banning meetings – temporarily – to avoid lawyer burnout

The 15-Hour Workdays And Ongoing Issue of Lawyer Burnout 5
Image: Barwinners.com

Lawyer burnout and 15 hour workdays hit the Stuff headlines recently, following publicity over investment bankers working such hours.

We recently reported on the symptoms of lawyer burnout and what can be done to avoid the problem, which has increasingly affected firms globally, New Zealand being no exception.

The report quotes a report from Bloomberg indicating that investment banking was losing its appeal because of the burnout issue, with fewer than 3 per cent of Harvard Business School’s class of 2020 opted for careers in investment banking, sales and trading. That’s a 40 per cent drop on the number who opted for a similar career in 2016 and a 75 per cent drop on what the graduating class of 2006 did.

With lawyers, however, the issue has been longstanding. Stuff quote

University of Otago law academic Dawn Duncan who supports the view that current ACC rules do not incentivize preventing burnout as there is little data about the burnout rate and firms do not pay higher premiums as a result of burnout.

Dawn Duncan has seen it hit the law graduates they have produced over the years but says the universities are powerless to do anything other than raise awareness of it.

“Firms don’t really have much of an incentive to take action because the business models that are producing the burnout and stress are so profitable, and have been for a long time.

“It’s simply cheaper to get a new round of graduates each year and then for them to leave after two or three years.”

She does not think the legal industry can be trusted to regulate itself over the issue and is calling for WorkSafe or another agency outside the industry to take more active steps against it.

Dentons Call Meetings Quits

Global law firm Dentons recently announced that it was eliminating meetings for a week to counter the burnout rate.

The firm is instituting a “no meetings week” in the U.S. for the second time in five months.

While interactions tied to client and project deadlines will continue to occur, the firm is pushing for a suspension of all standing meetings, Law.com reports, with the goal of encouraging personnel to pause and catch up on larger projects and even take time off without fear of falling behind. It’s one of a number of measures law firms are experimenting with to address the fatigue connected with the blurring of boundaries between home life and work that’s been a hallmark of the pandemic.

Managing Lawyer Burnout

Managing lawyer burnout is something that is achievable, but the stats for its incidence is not encouraging.

A report in Clio in 2020 indicated the problem in the US.

  •  A 2016 study by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs, 2 per cent%of licensed, employed attorneys are problem drinkers, 28% suffer from some level of depression, and 19 per cent struggle with symptoms of anxiety.
  • In a 2014 survey of Yale Law School students, 70 per cent of those surveyed struggled with mental health issues during their time at law school.
  • ALM’s Mental Health and Substance Abuse Survey, published in 2020, found that 31.2 per cent of the more than 3,800 respondents feel they are depressed, 64% feel they have anxiety, 10.1 per cent feel they have an alcohol problem and 2.8% feel they have a drug problem.

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