Lawyers long hours culture and its link to youth unemployment

 In Comment, Gill's Blog

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Scrapping the European Working Time Directive encourages us all to be overworked and over pressured. With youth unemployment at such record highs should the lucky few who have jobs not work less hours to encourage recruitment of others?


As part of the discussions within the EU to help the Eurozone Treaty changes are afoot which require all 27 members to agree unless Britain exercises its opt out. Angela Merkel and David Cameron have been in talks to see if he can achieve some concessions in the process. One such concession publicised to-day in the Financial Times and the Guardian is the suggestion that the EU Working Time Directive be scrapped.

At the same time there is no doubt that the long hours culture in Britain damages people. It is thrilling to work hard at something one is passionate about but at the same time being overworked and over pressured does little for one’s health, sanity and family life. The legal profession is guilty of routinely opting out of the Working Time Directive. Many lawyers consistently work for more than 48 hours a week.

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A few days ago unemployment amongst 16-24 year olds exceeded 1 million for the first time since 1986. For more on this see To try and tackle this the Government has announced a £250 million pot to encourage vocational training. Are there areas of our work where we can encourage both ourselves and our staff to work slightly less hours and employ a young person to help us out?

Could you be a benign Lord Sugar?

Of course, confidential legal work could not be delegated to a school leaver. However, there are other activities for which a young person would be ideal. An apprenticeship is after all an opportunity to engage in many ways – there may be administrative work which a school leaver could do with some supervision from a senior secretary; there may be social media initiatives which a teenager who spends hours on the web might well be able to do better than you; there may be research tools which you have never got round to learning which would be second nature to a regular on-line reviewer. No doubt there are many other activities which could be found if thought were given to it.

The opportunity to offer an apprenticeship, other than one to a trainee solicitor, may not have entered the profession’s consciousness but may well provide a small law firm with some serious chances to free up some time to engage in essential forward thinking which otherwise gets left until the last hour of the day, if time is found for it at all.

It is not without commitment since the young person will need help and guidance not just by the training agency arranging the placement but also within the law firm. But then gaining 30 hours per week of extra help for a minimal outlay for 12 months has to be worth some effort on the part of the firm. Who knows what may be gained at the end of the 12 month period.


We cannot do everything we need to do ourselves. We must learn to delegate. We must restrict to ourselves only those tasks which only we can do. It does take effort and for control freaks like me it is hard to let go but we should give it a shot. Not only will our practice grow as a result but so might we – more time with your family; more time to help in the community; more time to enjoy life as a result of being under a little less pressure. Try it and see!

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