Stress means 95% seek job change

Helen Sage reports

Local authority legal work is stressful and destroys lawyers' private lives, according to the local government lawyers who answered a major lifestyle survey conducted by The Lawyer.

Ninety five per cent of local government lawyers who responded to The Lawyer's Attitudes to the Profession survey, published earlier this month, said their work was stressful.

Over half said they worked weekends, three quarters said they thought about work on holiday, and two thirds said their personal lives had been negatively affected by work.

Peter Urwin, chair of the Law Society's local government group, said the figures appeared to reflect the changing nature of local government in recent years.

"Everybody is busy responding to the new competitive spirit as a result of compulsory competitive tendering. The pressures are now more like those of private practice."

Urwin added that the nature of the work was also changing because local government lawyers were having to become more specialised.

But one of the lawyers who responded to the survey, a young assistant from a large city council, disagreed claiming the reverse was happening.

"The work is stressful because it covers such a large field," she said. "As local government lawyers we have to juggle so many different roles."

The stress felt by local government lawyers may be reflected by the fact that three-quarters of respondents said they would not be staying in their current jobs more than two years – half the private practice lawyers in the survey expressed a similar sentiment.

A third regretted their choice of career and 81 per cent were actually considering a change of career. Ninety five per cent of respondents were currently looking for new posts, either in local government or other organisations.

Local government lawyers came out less ambitious than private practice lawyers in terms of their need to reach the top ranks of their profession. Under half of local government lawyers regarded themselves as ambitious compared to over two thirds of private practice lawyers.

Half of the sample did not think the Law Society did a good job and three quarters thought that the profession as a whole needed to be externally regulated.

One borough council lawyer said: "Law Society membership is something you aspire to before you become qualified but in reality it is distant and unapproachable."