Understanding the Reality of Long Lawyer Working Hours

Written by Sharon Miki9 minutes well spent
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lawyer working hours

Lawyer working hours are notoriously long and grueling—but just how many hours do lawyers work, typically? And what impact do super-sized workweeks have on lawyers, personally and professionally?

For attorneys, a full-time role rarely means working 9-to-5. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, many lawyers exceed 40-hour workweeks—especially private practice and large-firm lawyers.

If we look at the complexities of a lawyer’s typical career path, it’s no surprise that lawyer working hours are long. There’s so much to do—meeting billable hour requirements, managing clients, court appearances, case preparation, and more. Add in professional competition and extreme pressure, and you have a recipe for exhaustion.

But simply accepting that the working hours of a lawyer are exceptionally long and demanding isn’t a sustainable solution. Normalizing overwork fuels a legal industry that suffers from burnout, excessive stress, substance abuse and mental health issues, and an overall lack of well-being

In this blog post, we’ll examine just how many hours lawyers work, and why. We’ll also discuss the potential health consequences of consistent overwork for lawyers. Most importantly, we’ll explore ways to manage and balance the working hours of a lawyer. (hint: using powerful legal technology can help. Book a personalized demo of Clio to see how).

One of the key factors impacting how many hours a week a lawyer typically works is the size of their practice.

  • Lawyers at small- and medium-sized firms work an average of 42-54 hours per week.
  • Lawyers at large firms work an average of 66 hours per week.

Which lawyers work the most? Often due to billable hour quotas, attorneys working at Big Law firms commonly work 80-hour weeks.

Do lawyers work 9-to-5?

clock on table

What hours do lawyers work, if they’re working more than full time? During the week, many lawyers work additional hours outside of the traditional 9-to-5 business day.

The 2022 Legal Trends Report offers some insights on lawyer working hours:

  • 86% of lawyers work outside of the typical work day (beginning between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. and ending between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m.).
  • 56% of lawyers reported work after 5 p.m. and 28% reported working past 6 p.m. in the evening.
  • On the higher end of working hours, 11% reported working after 10 p.m.

Why do lawyers work so many long hours?

For most lawyers, it’s not just one (or two, or three) factors that drive long working hours. From heavy workloads to pressure from peers and clients to billable hour requirements, practicing law calls on lawyers to take on multiple time-consuming tasks and responsibilities. 

Unfortunately, the mountain of work and expectations often can’t be surmounted in an eight-hour workday, or a 40-hour work week.

While not every reason applies to every lawyer, below are common reasons that lawyers work so many hours. 

Billable hour requirements

When law firms have minimum billable hour requirements, attorneys are required to work a minimum number of hours on billable client work. When these billable hours are combined with the hours spent on non-billable (but still essential) tasks like client intake, research, travel, and communication, it becomes difficult to do everything within a standard workday. 

The catch-up cycle

The majority of lawyers—77%, according to the 2018 Legal Trends Report—work beyond regular business hours to catch up on work that didn’t get completed within regular hours. If you don’t create more efficient systems, you may always be “catching up”.


Many of the matters lawyers work on are time-sensitive. When serving a client means meeting a deadline, filing documents on time, or being prepared for a hearing, lawyers often put in extra hours to get the job done.

Unpredictable hours

Similarly, there are often scheduling challenges (whether due to court hearings or meetings) that can lead to long or unpredictable hours.

Client service

Clients come first, but being available to clients outside of regular business hours can impact overall lawyer working hours. Specifically, the 2022 Legal Trends Report notes that 74% percent of lawyers make themselves available to communicate with clients on the weekend, and 69% offer to communicate in the evening.

Practice area and geographic location

The type of law you practice, and where you practice it, can also impact your lawyer working hours. Think: How many hours do corporate lawyers work compared to other practice areas? 

For example, the expectations of a corporate lawyer’s hours at a Big Law firm in Manhattan are likely higher than those of family lawyer’s at a mid-sized firm in Ithaca. According to the 2022 Legal Trends Report, the average hourly rates in these practice areas is $363 and $283, respectively. The corporate lawyer can pull higher financial compensation than the family lawyer, but will have to contend with billable hour minimums and on-call demands—which means more working hours. 

Are long lawyer working hours bad for your health?

stressed out lawyer

Regardless of the reasons, working overwhelming hours is unsustainable for many people. The pressures and exhaustion that accompany long-term overwork can impact lawyers’ career paths and health. 

Some of the most common health issues fuelled by grueling lawyer hours include:

  1. Lawyer burnout. Lawyer burnout is more than just being tired. As the Stress & Resilience Institute’s Paula Davis-Laack explains on this episode of Clio’s Daily Matters podcast, burnout is “the manifestation of chronic workplace stress.

    By working excessive hours in a high-stress environment, lawyers erode their energy stores and become highly susceptible to burnout.
  1. Addiction and substance-use problems. Problematic alcohol-use disorders occur at higher rates with attorneys than with other professions, with a 2016 study by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs finding that 21% of licensed, employed attorneys are problem drinkers.
  2. Mental health issues. Lawyer anxiety, depression, and mental health problems are prevalent in the legal industry. The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation study found that 28% of licensed, employed attorneys suffer from depression, and 19% deal with symptoms of anxiety.

How to restore balance to your work-life as a lawyer

It’s possible to balance the demands of lawyer working hours with wellness, but it takes effort. 

Here are some key ways you can take care of your health and mitigate the impact of the legal profession’s long working hours.

Take care of your health and wellness

Looking after yourself will help you better manage stress. Below are some different ways to prioritize your wellness.

Eat well

Working so hard that you forget to eat—or regularly eating food that doesn’t make you feel great or provide nourishment—isn’t doing your work-life balance any favors. Instead, fuel yourself to support productivity in the hours that you do work by avoiding excessive caffeine and alcohol, and eating regular healthy meals. 

Stay physically active

Moving your body with physical activity is an important factor when it comes to lawyer wellness and helping to manage anxiety.

Prioritize downtime and time off

Rest is critical to keeping burnout at bay, and sleep deprivation negatively impacts our health. But rest is often the first thing to go when you’re working long hours. To mitigate this, you might need to schedule downtime and make a concerted effort to prioritize rest. 

Set boundaries

Know your limits, articulate them, and stand by them. It can be challenging, but learning to say no when you need to can improve your work-life balance. For more on the importance of setting boundaries for lawyers, listen to this episode of Daily Matters with Master Certified Coach Terry DeMeo

Practice mindfulness

As attorney and author Jeena Cho explains on the Daily Matters podcast, mindfulness and meditation can be powerful tools for supporting mental wellness for lawyers. If you need help tapping into mindfulness, you can also use technology to help, with many apps available to help you manage stress and prevent burnout.

Maintain social connections

When you’re hyper-focused on your career, it can be easy to let social connections slip through the cracks. However, these connections are essential for your overall health and wellbeing

Learn more about lawyer wellness and mental health from experts like Paula Davis-Laack, Founder and CEO of The Stress & Resilience Institute, and Jeena Cho, Mindfulness Educator at The Resilient Lawyer in an episode of the Daily Matters podcast

Strategies to create balance in your work and life

There are also steps you can take to restore—or create—the balance in your work and life.

Seek work with meaning

Working long hours can be stressful. But if you’re doing work you care about and find meaningful, it can feel less taxing.


Assess your daily tasks with an honest eye. Are you doing tasks that someone else could be doing? Whether it’s delegating work to administrative staff, other attorneys, or outsourcing work, if you can ethically and securely delegate some tasks, that can free up hours in your day.

Work smarter

Using technology to streamline and automate administrative and non-billable tasks cuts down on your lawyer working hours while getting the same (or even better) work results. 

Tracking time in real-time by using software like Clio Manage’s legal time and expense tracking software, for example, saves time at work by making your daily processes more efficient. 

For guidance on how to achieve this, watch this webinar on how to bill an extra eight hours every week.

Make your own hours

If you can’t find a balance where you are, you might want to consider alternative ways to build your own vision of work-life balance, such as starting your own law firm.

Final notes on balancing lawyer working hours

healthy lawyer

There are only so many hours in a day, and the working hours of a lawyer tend to take up most of them. 

While the extent of how many hours lawyers work varies depending on factors like law firm size and practice area, the majority of lawyers today work full-time, with many working well beyond that.

Often, the drive to work extra hours comes from good intentions. Lawyers want to serve their clients as best they can, and they want to succeed and make a difference in a highly competitive field. Unfortunately, those good intentions coupled with things like billable hour requirements and heavy caseloads can make work unsustainable.

Because of this, lawyers are often prone to stress, a lack of balance, and burnout. 

While slashing your working hours as a lawyer is likely not realistic, there are steps you can take to support wellness and work-life balance. 

See how you can cut down on administrative work hours with Clio Manage.

How many hours a week do lawyers work?

Lawyers tend to regularly work over 40 hours per week, with Clio’s 2018 Legal Client Trends Report finding full-time lawyers work an average of 49.6 hours weekly. This varies based on multiple factors, including firm size, practice area, and geographic location.


Do lawyers work long hours?

Lawyers are known for working long and often grueling hours, with most lawyers working more than 40 hours a week. According to Clio’s 2018 Legal Client Trends Report, 75% of lawyers report often or always working outside of regular business hours.

Categorized in: Business

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