I had no idea that the earlier post on a litigator’s case load would receive such a large response and have many hundreds of people reading it within hours (it was posted on a Sunday remember). Most of the response came on twitter.  One response was (somewhat wryly) that there was a mis-assumption that lawyers only worked 40 hours. This leads to the question – is working extra hours actually productive?



It may be worthwhile everyone involved in litigation reading two articles by Jennifer Alvey that challenge the notion that working extra hours leads to extra results. In the long term (and indeed in the short and medium term) there is often a negative impact upon productivity.

“Overworked Lawyers: Delicate, Drunk Flowers”

In the first article Jennifer challenges the idea that lawyers can work long hours.  This is based on studies carried out by businesses.

“You know that mythical time in law practice, when billable hour goals were 1600 and you were expected to be part of the community? Turns out that such expectations reflected a much larger business norm, actually a deep belief, that working more than 40 hours a week led to decreased productivity over the long term. And this belief was borne out by data collected by businesses, not labor unions. Astounding, isn’t it?”
  • For brain workers 6 hours of work a day is your productivity limit.
  • There is a culture of “blaming the victim”
“Of course, no managing partner who wants to keep her or his job will agree that their team is doing subpar work because they’re working too many hours. They can’t even see how that’s true. Firms delight in blaming the individual lawyers working those crazy, brain-sapping hours as “not measuring up,” or “not loyal,” or “not tough enough” if they make mistakes and plead fatigue”
  • Tired people make more mistakes.

80-Hour Weeks, Key to Lost Productivity and Living for Lawyers

The second article questions the actual productivity of long hours, citing research into the effect of over-long weeks.

“The Business Roundtable study found that after just eight 60-hour weeks, the fall-off in productivity is so marked that the average team would have actually gotten just as much done and been better off if they’d just stuck to a 40-hour week all along. And at 70- or 80-hour weeks, the fall-off happens even faster: at 80 hours, the break-even point is reached in just three weeks.”


Jennifer writes so well on this topic. I can’t attempt to summarise her views.

“So we have an entire profession that is showing up drunk to work and not performing anywhere near their potential as a result. If the intoxicating substance were alcohol or drugs instead of billable hours, lawyers would be advising clients to either fire the intoxicated employee or send them to rehab. Instead, lawyers crack the whip on themselves and bill more, more, more. It’s nuts.”


Overworked lawyers: delicate, drunk flowers.

80-Hour weeks, key to lost productivity and living for lawyers.