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Employee Well-Being In The Legal Profession

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There’s a lot of talk around achieving a healthy work-life balance. We speak with legal professionals on a daily basis and have a great scope of the initiatives, ambitions and good intentions surrounding mental health and well-being.

Having worked in legal recruitment for over 5 years, I’ve long seen a trend of lawyers (at all levels) prioritising a work-life balance over other factors, such as salary, career progression and the firm’s reputation. In fact, three quarters of the legal professionals we recently surveyed said work life balance was more important to them than career progression.

But isn’t ‘work-life balance’ just another buzz phrase? You ask… We consider a healthy work-life balance to mean more than having an expectation of leaving the office at 5 PM. It may mean that people are happy to work long hours on occasion if they are flexible; being able to work from home and, outside of large projects, if they’re truly able to leave work in the office’. By that I mean employers and management not emailing employees outside of work hours or, if you do, not expecting them to reply until they are back in the office. Whilst most lawyers would happily respond because they enjoy their work and appreciate the urgency of some matters, having a firm acknowledge and appreciate someone’s ‘down time’ takes away the strain that many lawyers put on themselves to always be ‘on’. Quite often, employers don’t expect a response outside of working hours but if that expectation hasn’t been explicitly shared then employees won’t know and will think they need to jump to it. We’ve all been there, right?

I conducted a poll to understand what work-life balance means for legal professionals in Wales. The results are below.

What is clear is that legal professionals feel obliged to continue working after 5 PM, or after they have left the office for the day, and only 38% switch off completely when on annual leave. Let’s just think about that for a second. We work around 46 weeks a year, 230 days, and during those five weeks we do have off, over half are still working from a mobile device! Our results also suggest that a quarter of that group are expected to work, or, perhaps feel that they are expected to work when on leave. Note the difference there – would you want your employees to feel as though this was expected of them? Is that how you want your firm portrayed? This is something that has to change within professional services across the board -not just in the legal industry? Be clear on your culture - you can't expect people to second guess how you want them to behave, especially in an industry that’s highly competitive. What we as recruiters have discovered is that while it’s a small(ish) percentage, lawyers in Wales are coming to us stating that they wish to move out of law as they are drained and demotivated.

So what can we do to change this? As employers, we need to be open minded and really take on board what our employees say (not demand! I’m not at all saying that we accommodate the idea that NQs working from home for 4 days a week!). We can see the firms that accommodate their employees and are seen as visibly open to ideas and different, effective ways of working, have the best retention rates. For instance, it’s not all about flexible working - if lawyers are struggling with pressure / are time-poor, why not look at solutions that enable efficiencies, such as IT.

We often ask lawyers “what firms do you aspire to work in and why?” and “what firms would you definitely not consider and why?”. It’s not surprising that the firms that prioritise a healthy work / life balance (and, in turn, have a great reputation) are the firm’s people want to work for. Aspirations for a healthy work/life balance aren’t going away. We think that’s a good thing as if employees can see you’re committed to acting on your good intentions, they will in turn, go that extra mile and be motivated to progress their legal career with your firm.

You can download the full PDF report here.

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