How Often Do Lawyers Work? Detailed Work Hour Statistics

Lawyers are often portrayed as working long, grueling hours. The perception is that they are constantly burning the midnight oil, sacrificing their personal lives for their careers. But is this stereotype accurate? Just how many hours do lawyers really work in a typical week? The answer is more nuanced than you might expect.

An Overview of Lawyers’ Demanding Work Schedules

There is no denying that many lawyers work long hours. The American Bar Association (ABA) has found that over half of attorneys bill an average of 40 hours or more per week. About one-third bill between 45-55 hours. This is significantly more than the standard 40-hour workweek.

Law is known as a high-stress and demanding profession. Lawyers are often dealing with tight deadlines, urgent client matters, and heavy workloads. Having to be constantly “on call” and responsive 24/7 is common. Many lawyers find themselves working nights and weekends to handle their caseloads.

This grueling schedule takes a toll. Law has one of the highest rates of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and suicide among professionals. Clearly, perceptions of lawyers’ work habits reflect some realities of the job’s pressures.

An Overview of Lawyers’ Demanding Work Schedules

Detailed Work Hour Statistics

Just how many hours do lawyers work compared to a traditional 40-hour week? Surveys of thousands of attorneys provide enlightening data.

The 2018 Legal Trends Report by Clio gathered responses from over 2,500 lawyers in the U.S. The results showed that on average, lawyers work 49.5 hours per week. This includes both billable work for clients and non-billable administrative tasks.

More recent data from September 2022 confirms lawyers continue working 9-10 hours more than a standard full-time schedule. Over 25% of lawyers reported working 50-59 hours per week. Another 25% work 60 hours or more.

Federal data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) aligns with these findings. Their 2021 report showed full-time lawyers averaging 49.4 hours of work per week. The long hours span across private firms, government positions, in-house corporate roles, and public interest organizations.

Clearly, working significantly past 40 hours weekly is commonplace for attorneys. But averages do not tell the whole story, as experiences differ across practice settings.

Work Hours by Firm Size and Career Stage

Workloads are not uniform across the diverse field of law. Hours tend to fluctuate based on firm size, career level, and legal specialty.

In private practice, attorneys at large law firms work the longest weeks. Those at firms with 100+ lawyers average 53.4 hours according to Clio. Midsize firms of 10-99 lawyers have attorneys working 51.2 hours. The lowest average is small firms of 2-9 lawyers at 48.7 hours.

Workloads also depend on seniority and career stage. A 2022 ABA study found junior associates work an average of 52.1 hours weekly. This decreases slightly to 49.8 hours for senior associates. Partners work an average of 46.5 hours per week.

The most extreme hours tend to be among junior and midlevel lawyers trying to advance their careers. Senior partners can afford to be more selective about workload.

Influencing Factors for Long Work Hours

What drives the long hours many lawyers log? There are a few key factors at play:

  • Billable hour model – Most private firm lawyers need to tally enough billable hours to meet annual targets, usually 1800-2200 hours per year. This incentivizes maximizing hours.
  • Client expectations – Clients often demand urgency and quick turnarounds. Lawyers feel pressure to deliver exceptional service, working overtime as needed.
  • Case complexity – Legal matters frequently have convoluted details requiring deep research, analysis, and meticulous documentation.
  • Recruitment culture – To attract top talent, firms promote excessive hours as a badge of honor and commitment.

These ingrained patterns lead many lawyers to assume overwork is unavoidable. But there are also large variations based on geography, demographics, and practice area.

Geographical and Demographic Variations

Just as firm size influences workload, so does location. Clio’s data reveals average hours ranging from 46.5 in the Midwest up to 52.7 in New York. In major metropolitan centers, the “big law” culture fuels intense competition and hours.

There are also significant demographic differences. Male lawyers average 2.5 more hours per week than females. Possible reasons include women shouldering more family responsibilities and home life duties.

Racial differences exist too. Black lawyers work 48.7 hours on average, compared to 50.4 hours for white attorneys according to the ABA. Lower hours among minorities may reflect biases in hiring, assignments, opportunities for advancement, and compensation.

Impact on Personal Life and Mental Health

The high demands take a toll on lawyers’ personal lives and wellbeing. Heavy workloads undermine family relationships, social connections, self-care, sleep, diet, and exercise.

A 2016 ABA study found over 60% of lawyers reported not having enough time for personal relationships. About 50% lacked adequate time for hobbies and interests outside work. 40% did not have enough time for adequate exercise and self-care.

This fuels the aforementioned high rates of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and suicide ideation among attorneys. Clearly, excessive work hours exacerbate mental health struggles. Establishing better boundaries and balance could make a big difference.

Comparative Analysis with Other Professions

How do the grueling schedules of lawyers compare to other challenging jobs? The data reveals mixed results.

Doctors work even longer hours than lawyers – about 10 hours more on average per week. Other fast-paced jobs like management consultants and investment bankers also log extreme hours.

However, the average American worker clocks about 44 hours per week. So lawyers fall in the upper tier of working hours but are not extreme outliers compared to some other top professions. Engineers, nurses, teachers, and accountants work somewhat fewer hours on average than attorneys.

Strategies for Work-Life Balance

The good news is lawyers have options to curb excessive work schedules. Tactics to enhance work-life balance include:

  • Focusing on efficiency and minimizing unproductive time
  • Setting boundaries and learning to say no to additional work
  • Leveraging technology like AI to streamline workflow
  • Building protective time for family, hobbies, and self-care into each week
  • Cultivating interests and relationships beyond the legal field
  • Practicing stress-relieving activities like yoga, meditation, or therapy
  • If needed, considering alternate career options or paths with less grueling lifestyles

With intention and discipline, it is possible for lawyers to thrive in their careers while maintaining health and fulfillment in their personal lives.


The perception of lawyers as overworked does reflect some truth – they do work significantly longer hours than a standard 40-hour workweek. However, experiences vary across practice settings. While some attorneys log extreme hours, others are finding ways to establish more balance. With the right priorities and strategies, lawyers can achieve professional success while still making time for self-care and personal relationships. This balance is critical for combatting high rates of burnout, depression, and anxiety within the field.

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