Lawyers are working longer hours amid a deluge of demand from private equity clients in particular, with new data showing junior lawyers at US firm Kirkland & Ellis work around 11:30 p.m. on average.
According to figures from Legal Check, interns and entry-level partners’ working days have stretched in the past year, with many interns at major US companies working in London beyond 10pm on average.
The 2,500 lawyers surveyed this year reported average closing times of 11.28 pm in Kirkland, 10.51 pm in Ropes & Gray and 10.17 pm in US law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges.
According to Legal Check data, Kirkland Partners reported stopping at an average of 9.46 pm last year.
Those longer hours coincide with an excellent period for deals at firms like Kirkland, the world’s highest-paying law firm. The company advised on 58 deals worth $19 billion between the first and third quarters of 2021, according to GlobalData, closely followed by Latham & Watkins.
But the high demand for lawyers has raised the problem of burnout among companies, which are losing small talent and paying more to retain employees. Pay deals for newly qualified solicitors in London have risen to more than £147,000 at firms such as Goodwin Procter.
But lawyers say long working hours aren’t as much of a problem as missed weekends and holidays, or the inability to take breaks, particularly in the case of deal-focused lawyers who expect to stay up late when working on large transactions.
“Most practice areas have some degree of cyclicality, so during the pandemic, teams like Restructuring have been working these kinds of hours,” said a Kirkland partner who asked not to be identified.[reported in the survey]. . . But the company has tapped into record numbers to absorb that impact.”
He said that “the inability to take a day or two off now and then” and the “potential to work on deal after deal” without a break were risk factors for burnout. In normal times, “If you’re working on a deal, you might expect to work very late, and then, when you’re out of that deal, you can take time off.”
In a survey of burnout among lawyers published in September, LawCare, a charity that supports mental well-being in the legal profession, found that high workload, long working hours and lack of sleep all contributed to stress and anxiety among lawyers. She found that nearly 70 percent of the lawyers in her study had experienced mental ill health in the past 12 months.
Commenting on the Financial Times Elizabeth Reimer, CEO of LawCare, said: “Effective supervision and effective management of junior employees is extremely important to protecting their mental health and this should include monitoring their hours and workload.”
To combat overwork, firms such as English strongman Slaughter and May have experimented with flexible models that would allow lawyers to take breaks between deals or reduce their hours.
Lawyers said labor intensive rates tend to ebb and flow.
“The market is hot right now and law firms aren’t typically configured for this level of activity. But it won’t last,” said Charlie Giffin, former corporate president at US law firm Gibson Dunn.
There are plenty of examples of periods like this, for example before the global financial crisis and the crash of the Internet. . . Late nights have always been indicative of deal activity.”
Ropes & Gray declined to comment. Other companies did not respond to requests for comment.