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ANALYSIS: Survey Finds Lawyer Burnout Rising, Well-Being Falling

June 28, 2021, 9:01 AM

In May, Bloomberg Law conducted its second iteration of the Attorney Workload & Hours Survey, which focused on lawyers’ experiences in first-quarter 2021. Results show that, while average hours worked per week and overall job satisfaction scores are similar to those reported from the first survey, which was conducted in January and focused on lawyers’ experiences throughout 2020, respondents report experiencing burnout more often, and nearly half report a decline in well-being.

Hours Worked and Hours Billed Remain Stable

Average hours worked per week remain unchanged from previous findings, with respondents reporting working an average of 53 hours per week. Billable-hour senior-level attorneys (those with more than eight years in practice) report working and billing fewer hours on average over the past quarter than junior and mid-level attorneys—also consistent with prior results.

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Short-Term Job Satisfaction Suffers as Burnout Increases

Overall job satisfaction mirrors previous results, with nearly three-fifths of respondents reporting a score of 7 or higher. However, when asked about their experiences over the previous quarter, the percentage of respondents with a job satisfaction score of 7 or higher dips to 44%.

Further, respondents report experiencing burnout 50% of the time during the first quarter, indicating an increase from the previous survey, in which respondents reported experiencing burnout an average of 40% of the time in 2020. This increase in burnout may be negatively impacting how satisfied attorneys are presently, but if conditions leading to increased burnout are directly related to the pandemic, respondents’ overall job satisfaction may not wane as they realize (or hope) that their work/life balance will return to pre-pandemic levels sooner rather than later.

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Junior and Mid-Level Associates Struggle With Declining Well-Being

With short-term job satisfaction down and burnout rates up, it’s not surprising that half of respondents indicate that their well-being has worsened over the past quarter.

Junior- and mid-level associates have been hit hard in particular, as two-thirds report a decline in their well-being, compared to 41% of senior associates. Those who report a decline in well-being over the past quarter are also more likely to report work challenges across the board, with the exception being ‘Not having enough work.’ In particular, respondents whose well-being has worsened overwhelmingly report experiencing heavier workloads or work-related responsibilities and an inability to disconnect from work. Additionally, nearly one-third report experiencing new or increased health issues, compared to only 15% of those who report that well-being has improved.

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Respondents whose well-being has worsened also report experiencing personal issues at higher rates than those whose well-being has improved. For example, four-fifths of respondents whose well-being has worsened report experiencing disrupted sleep and anxiety, compared to fewer than two-thirds of respondents whose well-being has improved. Issues in personal relationships, physical health issues, and depression are reported more than twice as often by respondents whose well-being has worsened.

With increased vaccination rollouts and businesses slowly reopening throughout Q2 2021, will we see a change in attorneys’ workload, satisfaction, and well-being? Please let us know in next quarter’s Attorney Workload and Hours Survey, which will begin accepting responses in early July. Bloomberg Law will continue to collect responses to this survey on a quarterly basis to find out exactly how much lawyers are working, how satisfied they are, and how they’re doing in terms of well-being.

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Related content that is free for all can be found on our In Focus: Lawyer Well-Being page.

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

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