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ANALYSIS: Attorneys’ Well-Being Deficits Need On-the-Job Help

Nov. 1, 2021, 7:00 AM

Back in January, Bloomberg Law fielded the first iteration of the Attorney Workload and Hours Survey to grasp attorney workload and well-being trends in 2020. In a continuing effort to understand these challenges in the legal industry, we have been conducting this survey on a quarterly basis. Now that we have almost two years of data to assess, it’s clear that—despite encouraging recent results in terms of work hours and job burnout—general attorney well-being isn’t showing signs of improvement. Fortunately, this is a problem that law firms, legal departments, and other employers of attorneys may have the power to alleviate.

From 2020 through second-quarter 2021, attorneys were working an average of 53 hours per week, with billable hour attorneys working about two more hours each week than attorneys doing non-billable work. Workloads appeared to dip in Q3, with attorneys working an average of 51 hours per week. Still, that means attorneys are either working more than 10 hours per business day or sacrificing a portion of their weekends to make sure their job gets done throughout the year. To no one’s surprise, considering the long work hours, attorneys are continuing to experience burnout on a regular basis since we began keeping track, with percent of time attorneys say they’re burnt out between 40% and 50% of the time. Compared to last year, burnout is higher in 2021. But along with the recent decrease in hours worked, percent of time experiencing burnout also dropped slightly in Q3.

Despite the increased awareness surrounding well-being in the legal industry, data reveals that true, impactful change has been minimal—if any. For Q3, nearly half (48%) of respondents reported ‘no change’ to their well-being over the past quarter, and an additional 35% reported that their well-being has actually decreased.

While these numbers paint a rather bleak picture of well-being in the legal industry, change is possible.

In our third iteration of the survey, we asked attorneys about the types of well-being programs offered at their organization, and found that 79% had access to at least one—and the majority of attorneys who tried them found them to be helpful. However, engagement was low: Fewer than 30% of attorneys said they actually used any of the programs offered.

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In spite of these low usage figures for attorney well-being programs, legal employers should not be dissuaded from offering them—or from encouraging lawyers to use more of them. Survey results showed that attorneys whose employers offered at least one well-being program had slightly higher job satisfaction and slightly lower burnout than attorneys who didn’t have access to any well-being programs at work at all. They also showed higher job satisfaction and lower burnout among attorneys who used more than one program than those who used only one.

In addition to programming, the need for diversity, equity, and inclusion in work culture is more apparent than ever. Leadership needs to make it clear that DEI efforts are recognized and prioritized. By creating a welcoming environment for employees of all backgrounds, organizations foster an inclusive environment that tears barriers down, builds individuals up, and ultimately, leads to a stronger foundation for well-being.

With the onset of the “Great Resignation”, we’ve seen a shift in people’s priorities when it comes to their jobs. Forty-five percent of attorneys in our Q2 survey said they would leave their current role in favor of a role that offers a better work-life balance. In contrast, salary and compensation was only the fourth most-cited reason to leave for another job, revealing that pay is losing its stronghold on attracting new talent. By setting that precedent, attorneys and job seekers can redirect the legal industry’s culture toward a much healthier reality.

Access additional analyses from our Bloomberg Law 2022 series here, including pieces covering trends in Litigation, Regulatory & Compliance, Transactions & Contracts, and the Future of the Legal Industry.

Bloomberg Law subscribers can find related content on our Surveys, Reports, & Data Analysis page.

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