Can a lawyer only work 40 hours per week?

Lawyers and 40 hour week weekThe 9 am to 5 pm work week is a staple in lots of industries. You come in at 9 am and you leave at 5 pm. You only work Monday through Friday. Mixed in you get a break in the middle of each work day. You then get to take the whole weekend off.

For many lawyers, and new lawyers, they expect this 9 am to 5 pm work week Monday through Friday. They might have friends and family members with jobs that are 9 am to 5 pm. They expect it’s going to be the same for them.

Is this realistic? Is it realistic to expect as a lawyer that you can only work 9 am to 5 pm with a break in the middle of the day with the weekend off and that’s it?

For many lawyers and young lawyers, that’s what they had in mind. Mixed in with the 9 am to 5 pm work week Monday through Friday, they expect a large salary, a BMW and a big shiny house with a pool and all the amenities.

The reality is this is not how it really works as a lawyer for most. According to one recent article, the average lawyer can expect to work 66 hours a week. This means that the average lawyer is actually coming in early, staying light and putting some time in on the weekend.

Why is this necessary? There are lots of reasons. First of all, unless a lawyer is in the public sector or working as in-house counsel somewhere, most lawyers in private practice have billable hour requirements that they have to make so that the law firm can pay their salaries.

But past that, clients have needs. In most legal industries, lawyers have to be responsive. They’ve got clients and this means they need to respond to phone calls and emails. Sometimes, it means responding to these phone calls and emails from home after hours.

It also means that lawyers have to go to court (unless they are doing transactional work). Going to court requires extensive preparation. And to go to court, lawyers have to file legal documents, like pleadings and motions. They also have to conduct discovery, issue subpoenas, take depositions, etc. All of this takes call considerable time and preparation.

On top of that, lawyers need to do legal research. Legal research is must for a lawyer to be successful. Conducting legal research also takes time in terms of reviewing case law, statutes and rules.

Of course, lawyers also have administrative duties that they have to attend to as well. These administrative duties are generally items for which they cannot bill.

Certainly many lawyers might have had it in mind the they’d have a cushy lifestyle where they could make a lot of money and not work a lot. But the numbers just do not bear this out for most lawyers, especially those in private practice.

Lawyers who succeed in private practice inherently get that to be successful, they have to log the hours. They have to do the face time in the office. They have to be dedicated.

On the other hand, lawyers who struggle in private practice just do not get it. They try to log their 40 hours Monday through Friday and go home.

In the end, most successful lawyers, put in way more time than 40 hours per week. For their efforts, they likely have happy clients. And they likely end up being promoted to partner and/or they end up with a thriving practice.

If you have any thoughts, feel free to share them below.

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