Lawyers Are Chronically Stressed But Satisfied, Survey Says

lawyer stress, Portrait of stressed tired lawyer sitting at office desk thinking about difficult case

A new study of lawyers from Law360 Pulse found that, although the vast majority of lawyers report working long hours and experiencing stress, most are satisfied with their jobs and would still become a lawyer if they had to do it all over.

Almost 90% of the 1,247 U.S. lawyers who responded to the Lawyer Satisfaction Survey said they experienced stress at least some of the time, with 38% saying they experienced stress chronically. This number jumps when broken out by gender, with 47% of women lawyers experiencing chronic stress compared to 31% of male lawyers.

“Everyone jokes that you have to work a lot, but there’s no way to prepare for the intensity and volume of work or for the fact that it never stops, even when you move up the ranks,” a 30-39-year-old female associate said in the survey.

Why are lawyers stressed?

The amount of stress lawyers faced was closely tied to hours worked, as well as factors like their financial situation and work-life balance.

Fifty-six percent of lawyers working 50 or more hours per week reported chronic stress compared to 25% of those working up to 50 hours a week.

In addition, women lawyers—who are more chronically stressed—rated their financial stability and work-life balance as lower and student loan debt as higher than male lawyers.

The impact of chronic stress should not be overlooked.

Chronic stress can inhibit “problem solving, concentration, and attention,” wrote Paula Davis, a former lawyer who now leads The Stress & Resilience Institute, in Forbes. It also “impairs development of high-quality relationships and teams, and it interferes with working memory – all of which are critical tools to effective lawyering,” she wrote.

To address chronic stress in employees, Davis says legal leaders should be aware of “six core causes”: unmanageable workload, lack of recognition, lack of community, unfair organizational practices, a disconnect between personal and organizational values, and a lack of autonomy.

Not taking time off   

Not all lawyers are stepping away from their demanding schedules to relax and rejuvenate.

More than one in five lawyers overall and nearly one-third of associates plan to take one week or less of vacation time in 2024, the survey found.

“The more junior someone is in their role, the less comfortable they’re going to be taking vacation and certainly extended vacation,” Patrick Krill (who spoke at the 2024 Future Is Now: Legal Services conference) said in a Law360 article. “And rightly so sometimes, because either implicitly or explicitly, people can be penalized for doing so.”

Associates were also more likely to report negative work-life balance. Thirty-eight percent of associates said their work-life balance has declined over the past year, compared to 31% of non-equity partners and 22% of equity partners.

Encouraging employees to take vacation time can help create more sustainable workplaces, according to Rebecca Zucker, an executive coach and founder of Next Step Partners. Zucker says a vacation can help unclutter the mind to boost cognitive function and improve focus while allowing your immune system to recover from the impacts of chronic stress.

Despite stress, lawyers are satisfied

Despite the challenges of the legal profession, lawyers are largely satisfied with their jobs and unlikely to look for another.

Two-thirds of respondents reported overall job satisfaction, down just slightly from 2023. Roughly half of lawyers overall rated their financial stability as excellent and 73% said they would still become a lawyer if they had to do it all over.

Moreover, only 18 percent of lawyers said they were likely or very likely to look for a job with another firm in the next year. That number was slightly higher when broken out for associates (27%) and non-equity partners (21%).

To read the full survey report, click here.

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