Traditional law firms can have a detrimental effect on lawyers’ health

As life returns to the ‘new normal’, many traditional law firms are offering work from home arrangements. Yet, just last week, the FT reported that lawyers are working longer hours than ever with a negative impact on their health.

The FT reported that lawyers are working through weekends and holidays without a break in order to keep up with client demand and firm-imposed targets. In September 2021, LawCare, a charity dedicated to lawyer wellbeing, reported that high workload, long working hours and lack of sleep are all factors that contribute to stress and anxiety among lawyers. Do the new measures proposed by traditional firms really help to avoid the real risk of burnout?

The Risk Factors

LawCare’s report showed that two-thirds of lawyers in its study had experienced mental ill-health, including anxiety, low mood and depression. The contributing factors to the “high risk” of burnout included a lack of autonomy, poor psychological safety and protection, and a high work intensity.

Junior lawyers aged 25-34 were at a particularly high risk of suffering with their health due to the intense pressure on them to work without breaks. Sadly the research also showed that female legal professionals, those from ethnic minorities, and those with disabilities scored higher than average for the risk of burnout.

LawCare chief executive Elizabeth Rimmer concluded that: “The legal profession is stressed, tired, anxious, at high risk of burnout and that these working practices in the law that undermine mental health need to change.”

The Importance of Autonomy

At Setfords, we do not believe that the home-working measures proposed by traditional law firms will prevent lawyers from developing mental health issues at work. These new practices simply do not go far enough. As the LawCare study shows, the key factor is autonomy and control. Autonomy at work is key to improving lawyer motivation, performance, and job involvement.

At Setfords, our consultancy model gives lawyers the flexibility and freedom to manage and organise their own work, set their pace of work and take breaks. Our lawyers have the capacity to make decisions about the type and nature of work undertaken.

Let us present some evidence

The success and happiness of our lawyers shows that being a consultant with us really is better than the treadmill you’re currently on.

Consultant solicitor Christopher Sexton says “I had reached a point in my previous firm where I just didn’t feel I could continue. I was exhausted, and it took a huge toll on my mental health. At Setfords, I’m not fixed to times or targets, and Setfords are extremely supportive about how you work. We’ve got all the office and compliance support, but in terms of day to day working setfords are very hands-off. No one is looking over your shoulder every minute of the day.”

“Setfords is much better than traditional firms,” says Andrew Thompson. “There’s no pressure from anyone: it’s all up to you. It’s a lot more relaxed. You also get rewarded for the work you do. Often, working longer or harder in big, traditional firms doesn’t mean earning any more money. But, at Setfords, it does.”

“I realised I felt trapped in my career and felt unappreciated and unfulfilled,” says Marija Markovic, specialising in family law. “I wanted to be in control of my hours and my earnings. I wanted to be financially rewarded for all my hard work. I wanted to be able to choose to work as little or as much as I liked.”

Success does not have to lead to burnout…

We have a lot more consultants who will be happy to explain why they left traditional law firms to join us. A total of 126 of them came on board between the financial year-ends, 2020-21. That’s 45 per cent growth. Now they work the number of hours they want to work. And they base themselves where it suits them to be based.

Despite being “more relaxed”, those individuals helped our revenue jump from £18m to over £34m between 2020-21. That’s a 90 per cent increase.

All of which contributes to Setfords being recognised as the fastest organically-grown law firm in the UK. Which rocketed us from 149 to 100 in the Legal 500.

Our progress with our strategy helped us win Regional Law Firm of the Year 2021. The Law Society found compelling evidence of effective leadership, impressive financial performance and increased market share.

Is consultancy for me?

If you want to find out more about becoming a consultant with us, get in touch. We are happy to conduct interviews remotely for suitable, UK-qualified candidates with five or more years’ experience. If you’re a good fit, you’ll be joining a team that was created for lawyers to do their best work.

Call us on 0330 058 4011 or email


Thinking about consultancy?

Lawyers who become consultants at Setfords earn more money, experience less office politics, and enjoy a better-work life balance. The next consultant could be you. So get in touch today and take the next step towards a happier life.

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