It’s official, being a lawyer is the UK’s most boring profession. We beat even bankers (who spend most of the day doing nothing) to the top spot. 81% of us are bored with our jobs, say salary benchmarking site Emolument.com, who surveyed 1,300 professionals on boredom.
I hope I am not the only one shocked (genuinely) by the outcome of this poll. Why are so many lawyers bored? Surely every day is a challenge? When does the pressure lift long enough for us to feel bored even for a second? Are two days ever the same? Do we ever think “a robot could be doing my job”? Do we yawn our way through each day as we manoeuvre between court appointments, engagements with high profile clients, and single-handedly nail high value transactions and settlement deals?
But most of us don’t spend each day in this manner. Five to seven chargeable hours spent researching, reading and dictating/typing correspondence and documents, plus time spent in the same old interview room and plenty of admin tasks to boot could be the daily reality most of us face. US Attorney Gary Ross says its this kind of work that is to blame for high levels of boredom in the profession.
Multiply this every day over many years, and we could be thinking about whether another career might possibly offer more variety, and less time at the desk, or in an interview room.
Many of us are not drawn to the occupation of being a lawyer because we love interviews, typing/dictating and admin tasks. Its because we had foolish and naive ideas about making a difference, being challenged, work variety, and speaking with influence in a court room.
So what career could be more fun? MP? Teacher? IT Professional? Taxi Driver? These occupations also involve overtime, monotonous tasks, sitting down, underwhelmed clientele and paperwork. There’s no escape from it, we just have to make the most of our chosen profession.
Is it our job or our workplace at fault?
Yes on the face of it we do some monotonous tasks, but could some of the frustration and therefore boredom that arises in our work be down to task management, working patterns and efficiency rather than the job itself? Is the regime as much to blame as the job?
The reality is that many lawyers are left alone to work as individuals, and cooperation over joint efforts that can produce our work more efficiently are often neglected due to the constant surge and search for meeting those daily relentless chargeable hour targets.
Develop shared templates and precedents
Many monotonous tasks can be completed quickly and efficiently by using good template and precedent documents. If we only use our personal templates/precedents, the task of constantly updating and managing them alone is monotonous and takes a long time.
If we use templates and precedents on a shared work folder, we can take advantage of team effort and save time, and boredom. Sounds straightforward enough, yet sometimes shared templates and precedents are not developed to their full potential or even at all, despite the obvious benefits with increasing worker efficiency and reducing dull tasks.
Make challenging cases a team effort
How many of us have been left with a difficult case that we work on alone? We bore our team members on updates with a difficult matter and they pretend to care, but make sure they don’t get involved other than offering sympathy for your woes. It’s a relief to know that someone is dealing with this difficult matter so no-one else needs to get sucked in, but perhaps where a matter gets entrenched it could move on better if more than one lawyer had responsibility for it, plus it would greatly lift both monotony and responsibility from the “chosen” individual?
Analyse each lawyer’s work tasks
Here’s a new one: Instead of focusing and assessing lawyers based purely on how many chargeable/billed hours they rack up, their client appeal-ability and their technical/intellectual skills, how about looking at what they are actually doing each day?
Not only can observation/worker task analysis have benefits in assessing worker efficiency, it could allow both the lawyer and management to understand whether some monotonous and time consuming tasks can be broken up or delegated to others, and how work variety can be improved.
Revolutionary? No, just management common sense – nearly half of knowledge worker’s tasks can be completed more efficiently and cost-effectively through delegation, outsourcing or through introducing improved IT.
Introduce flexible working
Lawyer’s complaints regarding the monotony of each day are as much down to how each and every working day is passing (plus often weekends) rather than the tasks they are actually completing at work.
If a lawyer comes in at 8am, leaves work at 6 to 8pm, plus spends a few hours commuting, that only leaves time to perform basic living functions (eating, some sleep, hopefully some personal hygiene) before returning to work to do the same again the next day.
Traditionally these personal factors are seen as outside of management’s remit, however if it is our work regime which is creating this lack of personal life, it should become our concern and business. Because over time we will be creating a bored, dissatisfied and also stressed employee who will not be motivated or productive.
The easiest and most obvious way to address this relentless and unhealthy personal regime is to introduce flexible working in generous measures. Freedom for a lawyer to choose home working or flexible hours drops the commute at peak times, and allows the lawyer to work during hours that work best; and that could be between 5am and 2.30pm, or 11am to 9pm, or a split shift.
Is it the job or the regime that causes boredom?
Personally I think its often the regime more than the job itself that produces such high levels of boredom amongst lawyers. Being a lawyer isn’t that bad and on the face of it, there’s no more inherent monotony than many other professional occupations. I’ve tried some and they’re no better; it’s all about what you make of the job, or what you can make of it given the right regime.
However, clearly if you had dreams of being a ground-breaking scientist or you live and breath physical activity, you may have just drifted into being a lawyer by accident and maybe getting gone asap is a good thing.
All views from the perspective of employer/manager or employee/lawyer are very welcome; please use the comments box below.