Survey reveals a demoralised profession

Lawyers are disillusioned with their jobs, highly stressed and nearly half wish they had never entered the law. These are the stark findings of a major survey carried out across the profession by The Lawyer.

Four out of five respondents said they were looking for other jobs. And four out of 10 respondents, which included a mixture of partners, associates and assistants in law firms as well as in-house and public sector lawyers, said they regretted law as a profession.

Assistant solicitors were the group most dissatisfied with their professional lives and seven in 10 described their management as autocratic.

Across the board, nearly half saw their organisation as badly managed with a poor communications structure and over a third said the partners or line managers were ineffective.

Stress is a major problem for nine out of 10 lawyers. Partners, particularly from the age of 45, said they were highly stressed. But only 7 per cent took time off due to stress related illnesses.

The survey finds stress levels and heavy workloads prevent over a quarter of fee earners from taking their full holiday entitlement, a figure that increases to a third of male lawyers across the board.

Disquiet is also expressed about the status of women as they advance through the hierarchy of a law firm. Two thirds of lawyers in firms think women are disadvantaged when considered for partnership, with more men than women agreeing.

An assistant in the property department of a large City firm said: “The basic barrier is biological. As a woman solicitor you are forced to make life decisions – career or family.

“Only the exceptional are seen as combining the two successfully. Any choice for the family as opposed to the firm, such as taking maternity leave, however short, is seen as evidence of lack of commitment.”

The survey also found a high level of bullying in the workplace with over one third of all respondents coming across bullying in the workplace. This figure increases to four in 10 when those in the City, women, and trainees are questioned.

One trainee said she had been told in no uncertain terms her career would go nowhere if she did not accompany a male client on her own for the evening after a meeting.

Surprisingly, three in four solicitors wanted multidisciplinary practices, although views on incorporation were less overwhelming with a third in favour. Two thirds wanted the distinction between solicitors and barristers to remain.

And views on the Law Society were mixed – over half believed it did not do a good job. And the majority of respondents felt lawyers had a negative image among the public with three out of four in favour of external regulation or scrutiny of the profession.

See pages 12-13 for a full report on the survey.