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ANALYSIS: Attorney Well-Being Declines, With Burnout on the Rise

March 3, 2022, 10:00 AM

For the first time, attorneys surveyed in Bloomberg Law’s Attorney Workload and Hours survey reported experiencing burnout in their job more than half the time, and an increased number of respondents reported that their overall well-being had declined.

The latest version of the quarterly survey asked 614 in-house and law firm attorneys about their job satisfaction, workload, well-being, job status, and work culture in fourth-quarter 2021.

Results revealed that while job satisfaction overall remains relatively unchanged from the third quarter, attorneys grappled with an increase in burnout and a decline in well-being. Attorneys who reported that their well-being worsened in Q4 reported notably lower job satisfaction scores and higher incidences of work-related issues. These respondents also tended to work and bill more hours on average and were more likely to be actively seeking other job opportunities.

More Burnout, Worsening Well-Being in Q4

Survey respondents in Q4 reported that they felt burnout in their jobs 52% of the time—a notable increase from the past two quarters, when the percentage of time reported was 44% in Q3 and 47% in Q2. This was the first time since the survey’s inception in 2020 that the percentage of time attorneys reported feeling burnt out has topped more than fifty percent.

Attorneys also were asked how their overall well-being has changed in the fourth quarter, and not surprisingly, there was a notable increase in the number of respondents who reported that their well-being slightly or significantly worsened. Nearly half (46%) of survey respondents reported that their well-being worsened this quarter, compared with only 34% in Q3 and 30% in Q2.

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Worsening Well-Being Tied to Low Satisfaction

The attorneys who reported a decline in well-being in Q4 also reported much lower job satisfaction scores.

For those attorneys, there was an average score of 4.1 (on a scale of 0–10), compared to an average score of 6.7 for attorneys who reported no change and a score of 7.3 for those who reported an improvement in well-being. Attorneys reporting a decline in well-being likewise experienced burnout at almost twice the rate (70%) of attorneys who reported no change (36%) or an improvement (35%) in their well-being.

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Disrupted sleep, anxiety, issues in personal relationships, depression, and physical health issues continued to be the responses most frequently selected by survey respondents when asked about the work-related issues they experienced in Q4. Moreover, the attorneys whose well-being worsened in the fourth quarter reported notably higher incidences of these issues as well as a higher incidence of drug and alcohol abuse.

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When asked what challenges they faced over the past quarter, survey respondents reported an inability to disconnect from work, a heavier workload or more professional responsibilities, trouble focusing on work tasks, and new or increased personal responsibilities (e.g. child care).

These challenges topped the list for both Q4 and Q3. Again, not surprisingly, attorneys who reported a decline in well-being reported a higher incidence of these top challenges, selecting them 6% to 35% more often than those with no change or an improvement in well-being. They also reported a higher incidence of increased health issues, job instability, and financial instability.

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Worsening Well-Being Also Impacted Job Status

Attorneys who reported a decline in well-being were almost three times more likely to report that they are actively seeking other opportunities and nearly 20 percentage points more likely to report that they are open to offers of new employment, compared with attorneys who reported no change or an improvement in well-being.

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Data clearly indicate that a perceived worsening of well-being is connected to a host of other issues and challenges that can affect organizations as well as individuals. Given the surge in resignations over the past year, an increased focus on attorney well-being, work-life balance, and mental health may help firms and legal departments retain talent.

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Related content is available for free on our In Focus: Lawyer Well-Being page. Bloomberg Law subscribers can find related content on our Surveys, Reports & Data Analysis, Legal Operations and In Focus: Lawyer Development pages.

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