Is this you?

Overwork and stress have long been bedfellows of lawyers in private practice, but their presence as factors in the tragic death of Pinsent Masons partner Vanessa Ford has brought a renewed focus to the issue. 

Solicitors were moved to share their own experiences of intense pressure on RollOnFriday, or jolted into realising that what they went through was unaccpetable. They floated potential solutions - such as SRA-mandated billing limits - or rued that nothing would really change.

If any of the following accounts chime with your own, please consider giving LawCare, the mental health charity for the legal sector, a call on 0800 279 6888. 

One lawyer recalled on ROF that as a junior corporate solicitor they used to "regularly fantasise on my drive in to the office about being in a car accident. Not enough to kill me but so I would be hospitalised”. It felt like the only way they “could escape the intense pressure of the 12+ hour days and constantly cancelling plans with friends and family. There was no ability to say no or ask for help”.

“I finally left private practice for in house”, they said. “The final straw was being hospitalised with a serious bowel blockage and bladder infection. I hadn't felt able to take healthy bathroom breaks or drink enough fluid and meet the demands of the job and my body issued a cry for help.”

Another lawyer divulged an unpleasant experience at an international firm in the 2000s. “I had a cancerous tumour removed from my leg. I was made to come into the office 2 days later whilst I should have been recovering due to work pressures”, they said. “I recall blood trickling from my wound and still they did nothing. Still a horrendous place to work according to the ROF recent survey”.

“As a senior associate in private practice I had a ‘missed miscarriage’ which was discovered at my 12 week scan”, said a solicitor. “I went into work for the two weeks I was told by the hospital to wait to see if the miscarriage would happen naturally. This was really ill advised as I could have had a haemorrhage in the office at any minute. I certainly wasn’t in a mentally fit state to be there, but I wasn’t thinking straight and I had a large matter to work on”.

“The partner I worked for knew I was miscarrying, but never offered home working, never suggested I take time out and was also totally lacking in any understanding or support in relation to the miscarriage.”

Instead, “I was given a three sentence chat about how common miscarriages are, which was pretty upsetting. I eventually had to have surgery”, she said, and the obstetrician “was incredulous that I had just dosed myself with painkillers and gone into the office every day”. “So many of us have had mental health struggles in law and put work first in unhealthy ways”, she said.  

One lawyer said a formative experience in private experience meant he now made sure to treat his team well. “Early in my career, I joined (a well known) commercial law firm and was asked to assist on a multi-million pound expert determination for an important client. Shortly after accepting the instruction, the partner who headed the team swanned off on holiday and left me and a trainee dealing with the agreed 5 week timetable. The case involved all stages of a traditional High Court claim - pleadings, disclosure, statements bundles and instructing a silk”.

“It was hell”, he said. “I'd be in by 5am every morning and would find myself still at my desk at midnight every night, including most weekends. I even had to postpone a holiday. Other partners knew exactly the hours I was putting in. Even the GC at the client expressed concern and emailed other partners thanking me for my dedication but suggesting they may want to provide additional resource. I was blind copied but I did not hear a whisper from the other partners and the status quo remained”.

“I vowed then never to put anyone, including myself, through it again. And I haven't.”

Blame was laid at various stages of the private practice food chain. “The industry is full of partners who promise to deliver work with unreasonably short deadlines when it is totally unnecessary”, said one lawyer, who argued that partners needed to stand up to clients and colleagues by giving realistic timescales.

They cited a deal where a Japanese client had suggested 25 December as the target completion date “and the junior partner's response was ‘yes – absolutely’. The more senior partner chipped in that it was Christmas Day and people typically like to have that period off. The Japanese client apologised for not realising it was a holiday period and instead proposed late January. The one partner having the confidence to not just say ‘yes’ to all client requests saved 5-10 people from a ruined Christmas.”

“I have so often moaned to colleagues that pretty much any transactional deadline ultimately comes from somebody high up in the client pulling a random date out of thin air, or the variant of someone lower down the chain setting an arbitrary short timescale to try and impress someone who doesn't actually give a hoot”, agreed another lawyer, who conceded that while litigation “is obviously a bit different”, even there, “so much pressure comes from clients not appreciating how long things actually take and dropping requests way too late, and lawyers being afraid to be frank and say no to these things”.

“Unfortunately, the reality is that as long as there is one lawyer left in the City willing to acquiesce to these sorts of stupid requests, there will be a risk of losing work over them, so it becomes a race to the bottom", they said.

General Counsels had power to change things, said an ex-Pinsents lawyer. While working at the firm, they had a major US client “whose GC inserted a clause in their instructions to law firms under which they would only ordinarily pay for 8 hours billable time per fee earner in any one day. Anything more would require a specific conversation and consent”. It was “Transformative. Financial incentives are skewed away from, rather than toward, excessive hours… It would be great if more GCs went down this line”.

“As well as law firms, clients and tribunals need to take note as well”, said a litigation lawyer. “Grumpy judges setting unreasonably tight deadlines have a lot to answer for.”

A corporate lawyer said that in their experience, it was the institutional PE-type clients “and especially the bankers/CF advisors” who imposed the most unreasonable timetables, which then caused the most stress. 

There was a brief respite during the pandemic lockdowns when “the market seemed to understand (to some extent) that everyone was juggling a million things and that it might therefore take more than 24 hours to turn documents”, but “It's hard to see the profession ever really changing”, they said. The US and Magic Circle firms “tend to set the pace and there is no way that some of the partners in those firms will ever stand up to their clients.”

“Nothing will change”, predicted another lawyer. “When I was a trainee I remember a mate (capital markets) at a magic. She was in the hospital for a personal issue - and yet, I remember seeing a box of files being delivered to her room at 7 pm. This was 18 years ago. Nothing has changed”.

They said they had “kept track of my firm’s chatter” following the reports on Ford’s death. “Emails on utilization and reminders of what the annual targets are (in case any of us forgot). I’m sure it’s exactly the same for other firms. For this to change, the whole system needs to be upended. Clients, pay structures, the 6 min unit, all of it needs to be revisited and redone. We’re working on models that are more than 50 years old and what’s being done? An anonymous helpline and perhaps a zen themed room”.

Exactly, said another solicitor. “Sh*t really got real at my firm in the wake of this as they sent out a PDF detailing the mental health resources that were available and a checklist for signs things might not be ok. More mental health webinars are surely planned. Who knows what action they’d take if something happened here- they might even stretch to printing the leaflets and having the seminars in person”.

Later in the week the same lawyer updated ROF: “It’s happening guys- we’re getting another webinar! Mental health crises won’t happen here, because the secrets of creating a culture of mental health awareness are going to be imparted over Teams”.

Private practice’s structure rewarded workaholics, said others, who then imposed the same expectatins of dedication on juniors. “There is a reason why every single partner in a City firm is at least one of: 1. Childless. 2. Married to a non-working or low-wage spouse. 3. A parent whose kids resent them big time”, said one lawyer.

“There are NO exceptions. The only ones who can deal with the guilt of not raising their own children without suffering from mental health issues are typically narcissistic. They usually rise to the top quite effortlessly."  

There are plenty of partners who would make a good case for the opposition, but the harsh assessment struck a chord with some lawyers. “I had a conversation with a partner who fell into category 3”, said one. “Their opinion was that despite not being there for breakfast, dinner, bedtime etc. they were available for the ‘big stuff’ such a birthdays and therefore were not failing their children. I know who I cared about attending my birthday when I was a child - those who were there on a day-to-day basis. I couldn't care less if some uncle I rarely saw attended my birthday.”

Those partners were not necessarily a majority, said another lawyer, but even as a minority their impact was significant. “Out there is a small number of people who want to work 24/7. Law firms love them because it is one person’s salary for two people’s work. They are lauded and the rest of us are ‘encouraged’ to do likewise. As a result, we now see annual hours targets that exceed actual working hours. It’s time to recognise that the workaholics are a plague on the rest of us, leading to normal people burning out. It’s time for regulation in this area. Are you listening SRA?”

The SRA should introduce a rule "that prohibits any lawyer from being able to bill more than 12 hours in a day, or 60 hours in a week”, agreed a peer. “Law firms told that they will need to manage the situation and structure deal/case teams appropriately. Simple”.

Ford’s death has already had a concrete impact. “I heard about Vanessa's death in the autumn, when I was already very nearly at breaking point - as well as being absolutely heartbreaking, I found the news terrifying and a big wake-up call”, said one lawyer who was working at a large firm at the time.

“I resigned a couple of months later and joined a much smaller firm with a MUCH better culture and no expectation to work all the hours of the day - these firms do exist, you just have to be willing to leave behind the big egos and the ‘status’ of working in a well-known firm. My only regret is not resigning sooner”, she said.

Tip Off ROF


Anonymous 15 March 24 09:01

Silly people, they should just move to Banking, Medicine, Tech or Management Consultancy where long hours are unheard of for those hoping to earn well over £100k a year. Law is strangely unique as a profession for expecting great effort in return for great reward.

Anonymous 15 March 24 09:04

Or I guess they could just take pay cuts and do something different / some slightly lower pressure lawyering job? But nobody ever seems to think of that as a solution, it's always the world around them that must change. 

The ability to let go of the money never ever seems to be quite as strong as the desire to work less hard.

Anon 15 March 24 09:05

my firm lost a massive client when an associate sent out a random non-urgent deed to the GC at 2am in the morning.

Anon 15 March 24 09:10

Most lawyers are talented and driven people. If work is really making you unhappy, do something else. You will be fine...

Offshore 15 March 24 09:13

Just move offshore. It is what I did. The hours are far shorter and the pressure almost non-existent, as the substantive work is carried out by the onshore legal team. Being a well-paid post box is certainly the key to avoiding a mental breakdown whilst remaining in the legal profession.

Anon 15 March 24 09:22

Anon 15 March 24 08:34 - agreed. An move offshore is also a good option. I was under massive stress at a City firm and simply couldn’t cope. Frankly, I hated the really long hours and I struggled with the complexity of the work itself. Not everyone is cut out for the toughest legal roles. I therefore headed to the BVI a few years ago. It is a different world. The hours are much shorter and we are not really involved in the work, which is put together by the onshore lawyers.

Sumoking 15 March 24 09:23

whoever said firms are 50 years in the past was spot on - billable hours systems in an environment where firms have 30 years of digitised matter data to crunch and tell them exactly how much a transaction costs - it's utterly archaic 

Older lawyer 15 March 24 09:23

I'm in my 50s and it really has got a lot worse since I started. 

When I qualified the rule was you billed three times your salary, one for you, one for overheads and one for the partners.  Partners (top 20 firm) were on about five times what top associates made.

These days you can expect a ratio of billings to salary of 6/1 and partners clearing ten times what top associates are making.

That drives these crazy cultures.


Anonymous 15 March 24 09:50

I'm an offshore lawyer (funds and structuring) and I echo what people above have said, the stress and the pressures are much lower here than in the City (and I'm talking about the City ten years ago). Very unusual to work beyond 18:00, a few early mornings to take calls from a London timezone, work relatively undemanding because you're mostly rubber-stamping structures created in London. The hardest part is spending eight hours a day feeling like an emasculated second-rate human who wonders if I could have hacked it in London if I had only applied myself. But then you spend the evening trophy wife-swapping with your neighbours in one of your many hot tubs and drinking cocktails with little umbrellas in, and the doubts all kind of fade away.

struandirk 15 March 24 10:37

Cmon 9.01am. That’s facile and you know it. Those industries work hard of course but (except for consulting) are not directly selling their time by the hour, with the resultant economic pressure to literally do more hours. And in banking and tech especially the financial rewards of success are far greater. Not so much in medicine but I think implementing the working time regulations in the 2000s in the NHS meant crazy hours are much less common, and they get paid pretty well for what they do. 


Management consultants are mugs though. 

Tunnocks Teacake 15 March 24 10:45

Christ almighty, this makes for genuinely upsetting reading. Life is a unique and fragile gift. This profession, for so many people, seems to have substantially diminished the quality of that life. And for what? Cash? There's no point having wads of cash if your physical and mental health are consigned so firmly to the bin that you can't enjoy it. As we've had so awfully brought into focus of late, this culture can and does kill people. What the fuck are we doing, allowing this? The gargantuan scale of some partners' sadism, in the name of nothing other than greed, could reasonably be described as evil.


As a "regional" solicitor, I might earn less than half of what some lawyers in London 10 years my junior earn, but I live in a beautiful city and have a lovely life filled with astonishingly great people. I am at liberty to do fun things with those people as and when I please. One of these scenarios is worth a million times the other, in the grand scheme of things.

Response to Older Lawyer 15 March 24 10:50

Yes indeed. You have to wonder (or rather not wonder at all) where the extra money is going- offices are going to open plan and hot desking is appearing, so it can’t be going on rent. Secretarial pools are forever shrinking, so it can’t be going on support staff. 

The 3x salary model was justified as “one for you, one for costs, one for partner profits” and there’s nothing to suggest costs have gone up faster than salaries. This suggests that the 6x salary model is “one for you, one for costs and four for partner profits”. My understanding from working at a few firms is that this extra wedge goes not to the rank and file partners but to a very small number of super rich equity partners. 

And what are they doing for that four times larger wedge? As these comments are suggesting they don’t manage particularly well. They’d say that they’re glorious rainmakers, but the reality is that firms increasingly have complex cross-departmental relationships with their bigger clients which can’t be made or unmade by a single person. I’d suggest that the reason they get so much of the pie is not because they deserve it but because they can vote it for themselves.

RickyDicky 15 March 24 10:53

Move in-house. You can get paid just as well  - same as a junior partner in  a MC firm - in certain pockets. It is also far more interesting and work-life balance is manageable. I am home every day for dinner / bedtime with the kids.  Yes it is still hard work but you can largely manage when you work and how. 

FIne, you wont get paid senior MC / US firm partner money but when are they finding the time to spend it, other than on their divorces...

Anon 15 March 24 10:53

A partner at a previous firm was lauded for the hours they put in. 100 hour weeks were the norm. Other things that were the norm: disfunctional relationships, anxiety, depression, dependency on prescription opiates and regular breakdowns in physical health (including every time they were on annual leave). Nearly killed myself trying to work as hard as they did before asking why the hell I was aspiring to that misery. 

Offshore dodge 15 March 24 10:55

But do offshore lawyers never feel like they are literally only serving to act as leeches on a failing tax system in the globalised world?

Anonymous 15 March 24 10:57

It won’t change, people are too greedy. If it’s making you miserable and affecting your health, then don’t leave it too late, get out. It will never be the right time.

pugnosedgimp 15 March 24 11:00

@anon 9:05 am - that seems rather petty of the client (and presumably not the sole reason). Could the GC not just have picked up the phone to the partner managing the file and told them to manage their resources better??

one thing law firms need to do is teach juniors to set a delay on emails - unless you're really at the crunch of a big deal / case, even if you're working v late to meet obligations to multiple clients, it just looks a lot better sending things out first thing the next day (even if the promise was to get it out the previous evening). 

AnonBon 15 March 24 11:07

All of this…at what cost?

And for women, who still have the lions share of caring responsibilities - there’s no such thing as having it all. It’s about having enough.

An Offshore Type 15 March 24 11:07

"do offshore lawyers never feel like they are literally only serving to act as leeches on a failing tax system" - Can confirm. During working hours, Yes. 

But during the other eighteen hours of the day my hot and perpetually tipsy wife strutting around my house in swimwear distracts me from thinking about it too much. And, if the ennui ever gets too severe then I just go to a swingers party and have a threesome with a neighbour. It's not the High Culture you get in London, and the Eiffel Tower is a bit different to the one in Paris, but we all just about survive out here nonetheless.

Wilfred 15 March 24 11:35

That point about grumpy judges is very on point. When I was a pupil, I attended a pre trial review in a ccriminal case that was based on weeks of surveillance footage which hadn't been disclosed. Well over 1000 hours. Trial was 2 weeks away. The judge ordered that it be made available but wouldn't move the trial date saying that the defence  firm should hire more people.

Anonymous dork 15 March 24 12:17

Adds fuel to the fire, through, when these partnerships pretend that they care about your authentic self…

Spotty Lizard 15 March 24 12:22

Translation of @11:07 - I call 'Walter Mitty' levels of deluded BS on that one. 

Cents of humour 15 March 24 12:41

Anyone else get the joke at 7pm is “only lunch time”? I used to have a boss that would do his personal admin during office hours and then we would work from 7pm to the early hours on actual billable work. He also squished insects for fun so…

Anonymous 15 March 24 13:11

Your earning 150+ in your mid twenties. You deserve to have no life. It’s very simple, work at a less busy firm or change careers

I find it bizarre when people complain hours worked but then are equally happy to take home a frankly ridiculous pay cheque 

Nine to five 15 March 24 13:17


I was a partner at a niche law firm - the hours were long and unpredictable but not nearly as crazy as in the City. I still felt 'owned' by the job and was frequently stressed.

I cashed in my chips after having my kids and moved to an internal facing/support role in a big international firm in London. 

I do a 9-5, zero stress, I took a small pay cut (partners at boutique firms aren't on City rates...) but must earn far more p/h than I did before. I spend loads of time with my kids, weekends and evenings are all spent with family or friends and I spend an hour of my working day in the gym each day. Bliss! 

The downsides are minimal - I definitely don't get the same level of respect from colleagues as I once did and sometimes I'm a bit bored. But this is a price worth paying a hundred times over and I'd never go back to traditional private practice.

It's possible, you just have to look around and make the jump - do it!

Anonymous 15 March 24 13:26

I was a senior associate for a number of years in the capital markets team of a City firm. The final straw for me was when I was 7 months pregnant and very uunwell with it. I was put on a deal and the junior associate who used to work me had just left the firm. I told the partner I would need more ssupport from him which he agreed to. V intense timetable and he was nowhere to be seen. I was working until 3am every night for a whole week including Sunday. He just knew I would do the work as I cared a lot about doing a good job and had good relationship with client. I now work in house. I couldn't continue working somewhere where my health and wellbeing didn't matter. Now I am out of that I look back and don't understan  why I did it but by then I was so conditioned. 

An Offshore Type 15 March 24 13:41

@Spotty Lizard - Look. If you don't think that it's realistic to say that the BVI are a just sunnier version of Surrey, in which everyone has lots of money, not a lot of intellectual stimulation, and little else to do other than going to houseparties every weekend in which it is considered totally normal to take turns with one of your neighbours taking your wife to pound town, or even just sitting on the sofa with a pina colada watching while they take an intimidatingly long and intense trip to pound town together. Then I don't know what to tell you. There's no opera here.

In House and glad to be 15 March 24 13:44

When I qualified, a long time ago, the ratio in my firm was fees 7.7: salary 1. This from a firm that openly boasted about the numbers of hours people continuously worked on deals in it's newsletter and in e-mails sent to all staff. 

Not a Magic Circle firm but one based in Scotland. 

Absolutely mental. Sadly (or not) it went bust a few years after I left. 

Tunnocks Teacake 15 March 24 15:05

@In House and glad to be - very happy to hear that you are doing well in house now. On to more pressing matters: Seeing as they no longer exist, you might as well name and shame. Go on. Brighten up my grey Friday afternoon.

Free Agent Limo 15 March 24 15:36

The model will never change because those who could change it have become multi-millionaires from it.

If you don't want to make partner, just go in-house asap to give yourself time to job hop a bit to leverage your number up. Then find a decent place to settle down in for the long haul as the inevitable dead mens shoes and glacial pay rises kick in. Then forget about being a brilliant lawyer and working hard, just be good enough and focus instead on building relationships which is what really moves you up in-house. If you can do all this in a tax-free jurisdiction, then even better. Less competition, lower standards and more take-home.

I make £300k plus monstrous pension contributions working 8-5 and never have to work weekends. I won't retire early and I won't retire rich but I'm ok with that.

Tunnocks Teacake 15 March 24 15:48

@Free Agent Limo - this all sounds lovely, but if you're earning "£300k plus monstrous pension contributions" then why on earth aren't you intending to retire early, rich or both?  Perhaps we just have vastly different expectations of the words "retire early" and "rich".

Free Agent Limo 15 March 24 16:17

That kind of corn doesn't kick in for a while and you pay a metric fvcktun of tax on it. 

Retire early = 50 years old

Retire rich = GBP 5mio plus 2 homes clear and free.

That's not happening salting away £60k a year of net income unless you punted the lot on crypto. I'm not complaining, I work with nice people, have near total autonomy over my day, and spend loads of time with family.

it's not grim up north 15 March 24 16:50

As a Assoc in a US law firm, I was heavily pregnant and also juggling a toddler plus regular trips up north to care for my seriously ill mum. Partner heading up the team didn't once ask about my welfare. Senior Assoc piled more and more work onto me, to the extent I was working at 3am from the HDU at mum's hospital. To be clear, I was happy to work hard but it went far beyond that. I took the mat leave and walked. Now inhouse and significantly happier. Good luck to those who enjoy that kind of thing, but money and "status" mean nothing if you don't live long enough to enjoy it.

Anonymous 15 March 24 17:09

I don't really understand why people complain relentlessly about the job but don't just quit and do something else.  Well I do, it's mix of ego and entitlement.

Most city lawyers (like 70%) come from rich public school backgrounds anyway so don't need the money. Go and be happy elsewhere and leave the long hours and big money for us chippy northern types who actually want/need it to build a better for ourselves. 

Anon 15 March 24 17:43

Wife and new born in emergency care, all last minute, partner (aware of this) drops me a line to see if i could log on the night to finish a paper I was working on.

Ex Magic Circle Lawyer 15 March 24 17:45

Spent some time in the European office of a Magic Circle firm. They worked very hard but the partners' workload genuinely seemed to get better as they got more senior (think long lunches with clients and just signing-off on the associates' work). 

Feel like part of the issue is that you work at big law firms to try and achieve a goal (whether it's making partner or making a bucketload of cash), but things just get worse and worse as your responsibilities to your family, your mortgage, your second mortgage etc. pile on. 

Anonymous 15 March 24 17:48

"As a Assoc in a US law firm"

You got it exactly what you signed up 

Didn't like it 

And quit 

That's absolutely fine. You change. The girm

Midlands lawyer 15 March 24 17:51

@Tunnocks Teacake 15 March 24 10:45

With you on this. I earn a lot less than an NQ in a US London firm but I have just finished for the weekend and on way home after a pint in the pub, able to enjoy my time with wife and child. I don't work all night, I am paid well for the hours I do and can afford a mortgage. Ok my city isn't beautiful like yours but can't have it all.

This is a choice 15 March 24 18:03

There are loads of 9-5 jobs in law. They don't pay NQs six figures (or even 10 year PQEs either). This really is a choice people are making.


Anonymous 15 March 24 18:48

There are a lot of comments here about working for sadistic, demanding partners. This misses the point that the person whose tragic death prompted this article was herself a partner. I'm a partner in leveraged finance at an international firm and client expectation and the lack of regard setting transaction timetables mean the hard work and long hours often aren't at my discretion - it's the whim of the PE client or the financial advisor who might take months teeing up a process, then deciding it needs to conclude in 10 days (because they won't be the ones working around the clock). Yes, we could say no and turn down the work, but we wouldn't have a practice. There are opportunities to manage client expectation and partners should do that wherever possible to protect them and their staff, but in my line of work there aren't that many. What has made the job more stressful at partner level in recent years are the associates who expect £120k+ on qualification but then aren't prepared to work hard for it - that leaves the partner to cover the gaps and ensure the service is the same. That's the job of a leader to a degree and I'm paid for it, but it's a layer of stress that wasn't there 10-15 years ago.

Anon 15 March 24 19:49

I've been seriously ill twice.  Overwork was a factor both times.  Neither time did anyone from the office visit me in hospital or my home, even though I was off for about 6 months.  I was shocked .  It certainly put work in perspective.  

Anon 15 March 24 22:58

As a partner, I led on an intensive PE deal 7 years ago; my firm for the investor, big law for the company. Company’s directors, especially the chairman, were just ruthless and ungrateful. All lawyers on the deal were working crazy hours and intensively on the investee company’s ridiculous timetable. On one particular call towards the end of the transaction, I was being bollocked by the chairman for making changes to effect a request by my PE client. Being totally worn out and fed up I blurted out “I am just reflecting what I’m being asked, so quit having a go. And by the way I’m going through a miscarriage. Some of us are trying to juggle work and personal sadness” And it went quiet, I then realised I was on speaker and the entire board and big law had heard me. Next day, I go to the completion meeting at big law’s offices, I insist that my team sit in an entirely separate room for all but the last 10 minutes of closing - I felt such rage towards the said moronic chairman. At this meeting, the worst happened, in big law’s toilets my 7 week old fetus left my body, and later that night I completed the deal whilst continuing to bleed heavily. Lead (male) partner at big law was incredibly kind and angry at his client. Truly, my most horrific experience. 

I took a 6 month sabbatical almost immediately after this deal, during which I was fortunate to have fallen pregnant (and thankfully carried to term). 

That time still haunts me 7 years on. I’d like to think that the chairman will never forget my words on that call. I hope it had a lasting impact on him. It did on me. 

Be kind, who knows what personal shit people are going through. 

Anonymous 15 March 24 23:11

I do wonder what juniors on £120k+ imagine that the money is actually for. Like, are you really under the impression that you are being paid for some kind of irreplaceable genius?

Anon 15 March 24 23:14

Your employers dont really care about you. You are replaceable within a week if something happens to you.  For example I am at a top 50 law firm which boasts 'work life balance' and regularly is featured in the Top 5 ROF survey for it.  I work gruelling hours , yesterday a 14 hour shift but nobody cares.  A partner died last week (not sure how) but all that happens an email is sent out and everyone deletes. Nobody even talked about him in the team meeting. Life goes on..... 

Anonymous 15 March 24 23:23

I've been seriously ill twice.  Overwork was a factor both times.  Neither time did anyone from the office visit me in hospital or my home, even though I was off for about 6 months.  I was shocked .  It certainly put work in perspective.  

Presumably you’ve left the firm?

O'boner 16 March 24 00:10

I read in the papers that pinsents have reached out for help re how to manage burnout from other city firms eg CMS. How the *'&# is taking advice about mental health from CMS going to help? I'm surprised there hasn't been more press about the dire state of CMS and how it treats it's people.

Anonymous dork 16 March 24 04:16

@Anonymous 9:04. If people leave, nothing will change. It’s hard to move around in the first few years of career. Firms also have - but no one talks about- claw backs for bonuses, maternity leave and study leave - which can influence people to “press on”.  Then we have the trend of ex-partners moving in house and running teams like little fiefdoms…The maddening thing is that the practice of law doesn’t need to be this extractive and brutalizing..

Crocodile tears 16 March 24 04:35

Anonymous 18:48:  You may wish to speak to your remuneration committee about that one.  Firms don’t need to engage in silly NQ pay, especially as it causes salary bunching for all the other assocs.
But I agree on several fronts: (I) bankers and their deadlines (ii) there is now a much larger gap - in terms of pay and pressure- between rank and file partners and equity partners, which can cause the former to undertake some fairly grim behaviour and the latter not to care. Oh, and the dumb rules about having to bring in deals from “new” clients or “on target” sectors. Rubbish. 

Question Cat 16 March 24 05:06

Are law firms just really poorly managed?  Most of their “assets” seem quite unhappy. 

Now a Partner 16 March 24 06:47

I was once on annual leave to spend a final Christmas with my mother, who had stage 4 cancer. On Christmas Eve I received a call at 6:00pm from the managing partner asking why I hadn’t prepared a report he had emailed me about earlier that day (Christmas Eve!!) and ordering me to do it ASAP. I had to leave my dying mother’s bedside and go back to my hotel to prepare a pointless report that could easily have waited a few days. And this was at a regional firm.

At the partners meetings I sit in on, mental health is treated as a joke. One partner openly laughed at the idea of discussing how we could help with our employees mental health, less than three months after one of our associates killed themselves. Again, a regional firm. 

Big law isn’t the problem. Law, as an industry, is toxic. Being a narcissist or a psychopath is a minimum qualification for getting to the top. The few reasonably well-adjusted people who make it to the top are too few in number to make any meaningful difference, and in many cases leave the industry one they realise how it really works.

Nothing will change. Abuse of people’s mental health is not a symptom, it’s part of the business model.  The SRA are both far to weak to do anything about it, and far too distracted ruining the career of junior lawyers for making small mistakes.

Anon 16 March 24 09:44

I actually quit big law in the end. Now I work for a lot less doing something completely different (non-law), but life is good. One surprise is how many smart people I met content earning a lot  less, with normal priorities. Freedom is more important than money. 

Anonymous 16 March 24 10:18

So basically people in their 20s with great and expensive educations are either in denial that £120k+ a year for an NQ requires hard work or they feel entitled to it without to that much money without working. 

Free Agent Limo 17 March 24 20:52

In fairness if you are off work on sick leave, they should be leaving you alone with maybe just a brief (genuine not passive aggressive) email every now and again to check in. I certainly wouldn't want colleagues turning up in hospital or my house, I have family and friends for that.

Inhouse bin blouse 18 March 24 09:20

1) Inhouse is much less stressful. I love it. But clients have a big whip to crack to change the culture in their "supply chain". The suggestion that clients should refuse to pay in excess of 9 hours billable per day per timekeeper is a good one, and legitimate from the client's POV: after 9 hours billable (which probably means 12 hours work in the office), the quality of the work for the client is gonna be horrendous.


2) not the worst anecdote here but: I was a US Big Law drone working on tedious, non-urgent industrial land valuation dispute for billionaire over the Xmas period. Everyone else is going on holiday and having Xmas parties. My wife is heavily pregnant. Xmas Eve, we finish at 11pm. Get in a cab, head home: 15 mins later, partner calls me back to the office. Turn taxi around, go up to top floor. What does he want me to do? He wants me to witness his signature on an application to open a bank account in Florida so he can get his USD partner's drawings paid straight in.

Anon 18 March 24 09:26

Partners are receiving a lot of flack here. Some is well directed. But the tragic death was a partner. It’s a very hard and demanding job. I don’t think I appreciated that reality until I became one.

I’m a banking partner in a Silver Circle firm. Last week, I tried to take a holiday; this was my first since two days off for Christmas). I was taking my daughter around potential universities in England and Scotland.  

During the five days, I had to conduct two pitches via Teams and then deal with two stinking, rude clients. 

The pitches were bad enough as “no one else could do them”. They interrupted the break; required a lot of time and the marketing support was terrible.  But the existing clients were the worst.

The first client was unhappy about a billing rate of a trainee wrongly listed on an invoice; he insisted that he speak to me “immediately” before the end of the week as the matter was “urgent”. It was nonsense and easily fixed.  I still received 10 minutes of abuse about “not paying attention to important details”. 

The second client frankly lost his shit by email because we were alleged not to have an update in a timely way. He demanded an apology and threatened to take the matter further. We had sent an update - three weeks previously. The client had just missed the email. 

Perhaps some of these in-house lawyers could attempt to treat private practice lawyers with the decency, moderation and kindness which one can supposedly find in in-house practice? In my experience, there are decent and kind lawyers in private and in-house practice. There are also some truly awful ones in both areas.  

What I’ve learned is this: Stay alert to your colleagues and ask questions; be kind; offer help when you see someone in trouble; apologise when you make a mistake; and try your best. 

Once upon a time 18 March 24 11:06

I was a trainee in an American firm. Stupid me. Having done 6 months in 1 of the finance teams, with 9pm an early finish, I then went into M&A. The lean team of 1 partner, 1 senior assoc and 1 trainee. The partner was never there at night, the senior assoc and I were, working on a several hundred million pound sale.  Probably understandably in retrospect the senior assoc had fully adopted toxic work patterns that trickled down.I do recall them also saying they knew it was all shit but this is how it is, it was shit for them when they were trainees and now it’s shit for me.  I was there every night until unholy hours even if just to sit at my desk in the event they might need me. One night I had fallen asleep at my desk and woke up with palpitations. I called the assoc and explained I felt unwell and asked could I go home. They proceeded to yell at me about how I’d had so many personal needs lately (I can only imagine she meant that one Saturday I didn’t work because my family had had tickets to a show for a birthday celebration - nevermind that my dad had recently been diagnosed with cancer and I didn’t say one word to my team). In a further Machiavellian move, the next morning they told me they’d had a word with HR because she was “worried about me”. Toxic, toxic, toxic.

Anonymous 18 March 24 14:12

Anonymous 15 March 24 18:48 & 22:58 and Anon 18 March 24 09:26, you are so right. Active partners on transactions have a great deal to manage and most of the time, the amount we get paid does not warrant the abuse and stress that comes with the job. I gave up on traditional law firms and now work for one of the alternative models where I choose my clients and work wisely and still maintain more than a respectable income. After 25+ years in practice I just can't bear working with unnecessarily difficult clients and juniors who i otherwise would end up covering for while they enjoy their night out.

Free Agent Limo 18 March 24 18:53

Sadly quite a few in-house have a kick their lawyer attitude likely stemming from their own abuse back in the day which they are making up for now they are the client. If you treat people like bitches, you tend not to get the best out of them. We treat our externals well so they take us to expensive restaurants and their associates fight to get assigned on our matters.

Anonymous 18 March 24 19:01

And if we are feeling sorry for partners as per 14.12 , I've long thought the sour spot is that mid market space between top firms and folksy boutiques. At least at the high end, you are building generational wealth and at the bottom, you rule your little pond but the middle seems grim. I know quite a few partners at that level and their wives bitch constantly that a normal day is coming home at 9pm, travel is constant even on weekends, the father takes the kids to football every 3 weeks but that's it etc etc.

Future Managing Partner 18 March 24 20:36

If you cannot stand the heat, move out of the kitchen. No one forces people to sign up for this job.

PMAssoc 20 March 24 10:02

Response to this tragedy by PM has been as abysmal internally as externally. Not a word about the enormous backlash. Not discussed by any line managing partners in my team. All comms on this actually seem to have stopped altogether in favour of the usual management rubbish. Shameful.

Separately, working long hours and working hard are not necessarily  the same thing. Some people work incredibly hard and create great things whilst having time for their families and a more predictable schedule. If you only see work as process not product, you are part of the problem. 

SEP no thanx 21 March 24 21:33

A kitchen on fire is a dangerous place to be.  A boss pouring on the oil leads to explosion.  Mental exhaustion leads to physical ill health.  It's not rocket science.

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