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The birthday blog: are all lawyers workaholics? How to take the pressure off

It may not come as a surprise to many to learn that a recent survey has found that lawyers are workaholics. Research by the legal recruiter Robert Walters, which was released at the end of last month, indicated that lawyers are clocking up an average of 45.9 hours a week at their desks, which when set against the average 35 hour week compares pretty poorly. And that’s not all – 38% of those surveyed were putting in an average of more than 50 hours a week at their desk.

This same research also indicated that, despite something of a cut throat reputation when it comes to their careers, lawyers are also some of the most loyal employees, with 68% of the opinion that they needed to complete at least three years with one employer before moving on, compared to just 51% of IT workers. Colin Loth, who is legal recruitment director at Robert Walters said of this statistic, “The fact that legal professionals don’t like to move around too often is indicative of loyalty to their firms but also of their preference to seek career progression internally. This is primarily because legal specialists like to build a career with an employer, find a niche that interests them and make valuable long-term contributions over a sustained period of time.”

These statistics together demonstrate why the legal profession is often such an exhausting place to be. The combination of those punishing hours, alongside the pressure to establish a reputation and achieve career progression – often staying put even when a role isn’t working that well – can sometimes result in an unmanageable burden of stress. We only need look at the statistics for stress related conditions such as depression and alcoholism among lawyers (research carried out by LawCare in 2011 showed that 15-24% of lawyers suffer from alcoholism at some point in their careers) to see the effect that this is having.

Successfully managing the balancing act of work, marketing, client care and reputation is a skill that can considerably take the pressure off – all it takes is a few changes to make the day-to-day much more manageable. For example, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, it is possible to attract and interact with clients via social media websites such as Twitter and Facebook. Whilst this will likely never replace the effectiveness of face to face networking entirely, it is a great way of freeing up – and making more efficient – at least some of the time that must be devoted to managing and growing a client base for every lawyer and firm.

Keeping up with developments in the industry has never been easier thanks to the ability to subscribe to blogs and the number of legal news focused websites and social media accounts. Then there is the constant pressure on every firm and lawyer to create their own know how and place it prominently where it can be used to build reputation and attract clients – this can now be very effectively outsourced. The advantages of this are obviously in that it takes one more item off the ‘to do’ list, but also that outsourcing in this way usually costs less per piece of content than the amount of the hourly rate of the lawyer who would have written it.

For those committed to the profession the reality will always be that the hours are long and the level of commitment required is considerable. Nevertheless, by working technology-smart, as opposed to simply working hard, there are ways to take the pressure off. I am taking some of my own advice as I write this blog on my birthday on holiday in South Africa and once uploaded I will be relaxing with wine and friends in the knowledge that technology allows me to keep on top of things wherever I am!

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