Guide To a Lawyer's Average Hours (With Tips for Work-Life Balance)

Updated January 26, 2023

The practice of law can be a rewarding and challenging profession. Regardless of the kind of lawyer you want to be, learning about the typical working hours in this role can help you decide if it's a suitable profession for you. Knowing how much time you need to dedicate to this profession can be a valuable piece of information, and you can find out more through research. In this article, we discuss what a lawyer does, how many hours they usually work, why they work this amount and provide tips on achieving a healthy work-life balance in this profession.

Related: How To Become a Lawyer in 2021 (With FAQs)

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What does a lawyer do?

Lawyers offer legal advice and represent individuals, companies and government agencies in various situations involving legal issues and disputes. Some of their most common tasks are:

  • Representing and advising their clients in courts of law, regarding issues with government agencies and in private legal matters

  • Researching and interpreting laws, legal decisions and regulations for the benefit of their clients

  • Researching and analyzing complex legal issues

  • Communicating with other parties involved in legal cases, such as colleagues, clients and judges

  • Arguing on behalf of their clients

  • Preparing and filing official legal documents, like lawsuits, wills, deeds and appeals

Some lawyers specialize in a particular area of law, such as:

  • Tax lawyers: They handle specific tax-related issues for their clients. They work with both individuals and companies and help them make sure they pay the correct amount of tax on various sources of income.

  • Intellectual property lawyers: They specialize in patent and trademark laws for various pieces of intellectual property, like books, movies and inventions.

  • Environmental lawyers: They focus on issues and regulations regarding the environment, working either for environmental advocacy groups or for companies that want to make sure they comply with all environmental regulations.

  • Securities lawyers: They handle issues regarding the transaction of stocks, making sure the parties involved in various transactions meet all legal requirements.

Related: Career Outlook and Challenges for Lawyers

What are the regular working hours of a lawyer?

Your typical working hours as a lawyer greatly depend on the type of lawyer you are and who your employer is. Also, depending on the particular demands of their cases, some lawyers offer their clients on-call access for 24 hours a day, each day of the week. Although most lawyers have a regular 40-hour week, a significant percentage of them work more frequently. The average weekly work hours for various types of lawyers are:

  • Lawyers working for large firms: 66 hours per week

  • Lawyers working for small and medium-sized firms: 42-54 hours per week

  • Lawyers working for government agencies: 40 hours per week

Related: Pros and Cons of Being a Lawyer

Why do lawyers work so many hours?

Some of the main reasons lawyers work so many hours are:

  • Minimum billable hours requirements: Some law firms require that their lawyers work a minimum number of billable hours for their clients. Besides spending these hours working on their clients' cases, they also have to perform several other nonbillable activities, like travel, research, onboarding new clients and communicating with various parties, making it impossible to perform all tasks within a regular 40-hour workweek.

  • Extensive client service: Advancing in this profession typically requires being fully dedicated to your clients. A significant number of lawyers work outside office hours to make sure they deliver quality legal services to their clients.

  • Constant catching up with tasks: Even if their hiring law firm doesn't impose minimum billable hours, most lawyers have to constantly work outside their regular office hours to complete all their daily tasks.

Related: Lawyer Skills: Definition and Examples

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Tips for achieving a healthy work-life balance as a lawyer

Consider following these tips for balancing your personal and professional lives as a lawyer:

  • Discover your limits. When attempting to find an appropriate work-life balance, the first step is usually determining exactly what balance means in terms of working hours. You can find it by assessing your limits and estimating the maximum number of working hours within a week that allows you to deliver quality results at work while still having time for personal activities.

  • Maintain your social connections. One downside of working long hours is that you have less time to spend with people you're close to, such as friends and family. Consciously setting aside time each week for social interaction can help you improve your health and well-being.

  • Make time for relaxation and sleep. Regularly getting enough sleep is usually crucial for getting the mental and physical energy to perform all your work tasks at a high standard while still having time for personal activities. Although, when working long hours, you may be tempted to sacrifice some of your sleeping and relaxation time so you can perform other activities, doing so can affect your work-life balance.

  • Stay in good physical shape. Finding the right balance between your personal and professional lives typically requires the stamina and energy to work both effectively and efficiently. Making time each week for physical exercise can help you gain the physical shape and mental fortitude to perform at a high level as a lawyer and still have a rewarding personal life.

  • Have a healthy diet. Besides exercising, eating well can also help you stay healthy and gain the energy you need to successfully complete both your work tasks and personal activities. This means eating healthy foods at regular hours and not consuming caffeine and alcohol in excess.

  • Discover what your peak hours are. Some people work better and have more energy at certain times of the day. If you discover your peak hours, you can schedule your time in a way that allows you to perform complex or difficult tasks during those hours, improving the chances of performing them quicker and at a higher quality standard.

  • Use technology. You can free up some of your time by relying on technology for various tasks, such as scheduling, time-tracking and communicating. It's usually important for your work-life balance to turn productivity software off during your personal time, though.

Related: Ultimate Guide To Work-Life Balance

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