This past Easter weekend, senior lawyers took a break from the endless meetings, the constant torrent of e-mails and the never-ending demands from clients in order to spend precious time with their families. But how many managed to resist peeking at their BlackBerry or firing up their laptop while they were doing so?
Much has been said about the importance of a “work-life balance”, but how far has the profession come in actually achieving it? Last month, The Times reported on the establishment of a helpline for stressed judges, who are finding themselves increasingly isolated and struggling to cope. The arduous working hours of associates at leading City firms has been exhaustively reported. But what of senior lawyers, the partners and silks – are they finding working in the law more stressful?
We asked The Times Law Panel for its views and the consensus was yes, life at the top end of the profession is becoming harder.
“I suspect that talk of a work-life balance is much exaggerated,” says Lee Ranson, a real estate partner at Eversheds. “One only has to look at the expectations on senior lawyers in billing, work winning and people management to see that the stresses are very real.”
The industry has become more competitive, with every partner move and deal scrutinised by a ferocious legal press. There is increasing pressure to achieve prominence in awards and legal directories.
Lateral hires among big firms are common and partnership is no longer guaranteed for life, leaving many partners feeling they have to watch their backs. “Partners find themselves ‘de-equitised’ when their earnings fall, when the firm’s expectations rise or, in some cases, when the management wish to increase their headline profit-per-equity-partner statistic,” says Bertie Leigh, a partner at Hempsons.