Nearly one in three lawyers would prefer to work fewer hours, according to findings of the Stellar Performance: Skills and Progressions 2021 Mid-Year Survey, recently released by Thomson Reuters. Nearly 1,200 stand-out lawyers in more than 50 countries participated in the survey; stand-out lawyers were identified by senior in-house counsel through the Thomson Reuters Sharplegal survey.

Legal Current breaks down the survey results, which show lawyers’ shifting attitudes around their work preferences after more than a year of working remotely and experiencing uncertainty about the direction of the legal market.

Billable hours

Globally, 30% of stand-out lawyers said they would like to work fewer hours. The majority of their colleagues (53%) said they are satisfied with the total number of hours they are working. Only 17% desire to work more hours. Additionally, survey results showed:

  • The desire for fewer hours is stronger among younger lawyers, particularly those under 40 years of age.
  • It is led by women, who currently work more than 5% more hours, on average, than their male counterparts.
  • Lawyers over 60 years old currently bill the fewest hours per year, but many would like a reduction in billable hours.

Non-billable activities

The report reveals a mismatch between lawyers’ responsibilities and what they think would make best use of the skills, experience, and interests. Key takeaways included:

  • Only 2% of lawyers surveyed are completely happy with their current non-billable activities.
  • Lawyers wish to reduce their average number of non-billable responsibilities from 10.4 to 8.5.
  • On average, lawyers would like to drop four of their current responsibilities – in particular, to avoid talent recruitment and development and marketing activities.

Efficiency-enhancing technologies

Technology can play an important role in improving how lawyers manage their tasks, and stand-out lawyers said that new automation tools should be their firms’ number-one priority for technology investment. Yet according to the report, technology budgets often fail to accurately take into account the cost of training, resulting in low levels of adoption.

“To get the most out of their teams, firms need to consider how lawyers’ attitudes are changing on issues such as workload and career development, and how technology can improve those and other factors,” said Lucy Leach, the report author and senior technical research manager, Thomson Reuters. “Optimizing these could potentially pay tremendous dividends for firms in enhancing productivity, reducing turnover, and improving overall firm performance.”

Download the full Stellar Performance: Skills and Progressions 2021 Mid-Year Survey report here.