It’s pretty common knowledge that law is one of the most demanding professions. Law school is a trial on its own, and once you graduate and get into the workforce, it’s not much better. You may have to work long hours, but exactly how many hours should you expect to work?

How many hours lawyers work depends on their particular work situation. Read on to learn how many hours you can expect to work and how you can achieve a better work-life balance.

How Many Hours Do Lawyers Work?

How many hours a lawyer works depends on what sort of firm they work for. If you work at a government agency, you’ll likely work a standard 40 hours a week. If you work at a smaller law firm, you’ll probably wind up working between 45 and 55 hours a week. And if you work at a larger firm, you’ll probably be required to work between 65 and 80 hours a week.

It may also come as no surprise that young lawyers tend to work more hours than their older colleagues. Likewise, women tend to work much longer hours than men. 

Part of the reason lawyers work such long hours is that they often work on weekends. About 73 percent of lawyers report working outside of the normal Monday to Friday work week. 

Do You Have to Work Long Hours?

So why do lawyers work such long hours, and are you doomed to 80-hour work weeks if you go into the legal field? The biggest reason that lawyers have to work so much comes down to billable hour requirements.

Many firms require that lawyers work a certain number of billable hours handling client work. These hours may fit within a normal work week, but the problem is that billable hours don’t cover all the work lawyers have to do. They also have to work on intake, client research, client communication, and more. All of that additional work can take you long past standard working hours.

Unfortunately, working these hours is pretty much required if you want to grow a successful legal career. Law firms are competitive, and there’s a lot of work that has to go into every case. But there are still some ways you can have good work-life balance as an attorney.

Problems with Working Long Hours

As you might guess, working 80 hours a week for years on end can have some consequences.


Burnout is a class of stress linked to working at a demanding or exhausting job. You may start to feel disconnected from your job, dread going to work, and find it hard to focus while you’re at work. You may also experience some physical symptoms, including nausea, digestive problems, sleep disturbances, and more.

Over time, burnout can make it hard for you to get your work done and find joy in your job. Worst of all, burnout is hard to recover from. The only “cure” is slowing down and taking time to rest, which can be challenging when you’re dealing with an already demanding work schedule.

Mental Health Problems

If burnout is left unmanaged for too long, it can leave to mental health problems. Burnout and stress can make you more prone to anxiety and depression, as well as some other mental health issues. Substance abuse is common among lawyers who are looking for coping mechanisms to deal with these problems.

If you notice any of the symptoms of anxiety or depression, it’s important to get help right away. Talk to your doctor, confide in a trusted friend, or reach out to a mental health hotline. It’s also important to ask for help if you think you may have a substance abuse problem.

Why So Many Lawyers Struggle with Stress

In addition to long work hours, there are several other factors that can cause stress for lawyers. Your daily work may be incredibly complex, and the stakes are high. No matter what branch of law you work in, people’s lives, wellbeing, and financial security may depend on you doing your job well.

Law firms can also be challenging places to work. Because so much rests on you doing your job correctly, you may be under constant scrutiny, and legal work environments are often extremely competitive. You may also be dealing with financial strain from student loans, even with a solid income.

How to Work More Manageable Hours

The good news is that there are ways to reduce the number of hours you work and maintain a reasonable work-life balance.

Delegate, Delegate, Delegate

The first and most important thing you can do to reduce your workload is to delegate work wherever you can. This is particularly helpful when it comes to administrative work. This can include client communication, file organization, some research, and so on.

If you run your own law firm, it’s also a good idea to set up a dedicated intake team. Not only can this improve your client experience, but it also takes a ton of work off your plate. Take a long look at your workload and figure out what you can pass off to other trusted employees.

Use Time Blocks

Once you have your workload pared down somewhat, it can be helpful to divide your time into blocks. Section out your day and assign specific blocks of your day to work on certain tasks. For instance, you may spend the first half of Monday responding to emails and returning phone calls and the afternoon reviewing your current case load. Tuesday, you spend part of the day focusing on research, and so on.

One of the biggest sources of productivity loss in law firms is bouncing from task to task. As soon as you get into a flow with one task, you get interrupted and have to spend time switching to the new thing. Using time blocks can help you avoid this jumping around and keep your work streamlined and efficient.

Automate Tasks

Technology can be an enormous help when it comes to easing your workload and reducing the number of hours you have to work. For example, using time tracking software can reduce the amount of time you have to spend keeping up with your billable hours. Setting up email and document automations can cut down on the amount of time you spend working on repetitive tasks.

If your law firm doesn’t already use legal practice management software, consider implementing it. Take a look at the tools you already use and see if there are any automation tools that you could be making use of. Calendaring, billing, document management, and case management tasks can all be made easier through automation.

How to Get Better Work-Life Balance

In addition to reducing your workload at the office, there are things you can do outside of work to help you get better work-life balance and reduce burnout. 

Know Your Reasonable Limits

As difficult as it may be, it’s a good idea to identify your reasonable limits when it comes to work and set boundaries. The truth is that there’s always more work that can be done at a law firm. Knowing when to set your to-do list down and go home can save you a lot of strain.

Of course, hard work is crucial to growing a successful law career, and it’s okay to work beyond your comfort zone from time to time. But you need to know how much is too much and will begin to cause problems for you. Keep tabs on your mental health and, when you notice yourself starting to struggle, take a step back and start setting more boundaries on your work.

Make Time to Rest

After a good, hard workout at the gym, do you go run a marathon and then help a friend move into a six-story walkup? No – you cool down, refuel, and give yourself time to recover. The same applies to your mental workouts.

When you’re not working, make sure you give yourself time to rest and recover. Carve out time to do the things you love. Spend time with your family and friends, engage in your hobbies, and consider adding a meditation or yoga routine to your daily life.

Care for Your Body

Taking care of your body can make it easier to deal with stress at work. And if you don’t believe it, think about how much harder it is to do work when you have a headache or when you’re sick.

As often as possible, get eight hours of sleep a night, and make sure you stay hydrated. Try to eat a nutritious, balanced diet, and avoid drinking too much. Moving your body on a regular basis can also be helpful; go for a walk or run, take a yoga class, do some kickboxing, hit the gym, or just get up and dance around your office for a few minutes.

Identify Your Peak Periods

Working with your body’s natural rhythms, rather than against them, can also make your work less stressful. As you might expect, not everyone is most productive between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Trying to force yourself to work during periods when your body wants to rest and rest when it wants to be active can be a recipe for strain.

Instead, pay attention to when you feel most awake, alert, and active. When do you get the most work done, and are there particular times of the day when you always feel sleepy or unable to focus? If possible, set up your workday so you’re on the clock during those peak periods and off during your lower-energy hours.

Grow Your Law Firm Sustainably

Growing a law firm is hard work, and at times, it can feel like it’s taking over your life. It’s common for lawyers to work between 55 and 80 hours a week, depending on what size firm they work in. If you’re feeling overworked, look for opportunities to delegate and automate tasks, learn what your boundaries are, and take care of your body.

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