Long hours are deeply ingrained in the culture of legal services. In all shapes of practice, they have long been the assumed norm.
Practices have changed a little here, as this week’s feature on the subject notes, but too often there is a choice to be made between ambition on the one hand, and flexible working on the other. A growing number of ambitious people have the confidence to leave on the dot to spend a little time on their home life, but they also then turn on the home laptop and unload a briefcase at 9pm. Could it be different? Lawyers will always face client emergencies, but the situation could surely be improved a great deal.
The willingness of lawyers to provide those hours, at a personal cost to their physical and mental health, family life, holiday plans and so on ad infinitum, allows clients, and more often practice managers, to ignore the importance of project- and forward-planning.
They can also ignore questions relating to whether they have properly resourced a matter - all unprofessional and uncommercial traits, but somehow tolerated. So client push-back on a new way of working is assumed, but rarely tested. The competitive advantage of a workaholic practice is presumed, but rarely calculated.
It seems odd that this is the one challenge that highly intelligent professionals so consistently place in the box marked ‘too difficult’.