A survey of paralegals, law clerks and legal admins has found that this foundational level of the legal workforce is being hit hard by the pandemic, experiencing ‘always-on’ burn out, mental health issues, and higher workloads.
The survey of 323 legal staff in law firms and inhouse teams, who are often those with little control over their jobs as they tend to be on the ‘receiving end’ of work surges and senior managers’ demands, especially around process and operational needs, was undertaken by legal entity management pioneer, Athennian.
Some of the key findings include:
- 49% of respondents surveyed said that unplugging after work is the biggest struggle with remote work. (In addition, how many partners are going to be able to resist the temptation to send you that evening-crushing email at 7PM…?)
- 37% said that their mental health had been negatively impacted by the pandemic.
- 28% also reported their biggest struggle was communicating and collaborating – (although paradoxically among the same group 79% of respondents said lawyers were ‘communicating at the same level or better compared to pre-pandemic’ times and that ‘lawyer responsiveness to paralegals has remained at the same level as office working’.)
Given the reality that many people may not report, or even necessarily recognise the onset of mental health issues, especially in what can be a ‘tough-it-out’ culture in commercial law, the 37% figure may well be a lot higher.
Also, over a quarter of the paralegals and admin group said that despite all the self-congratulations about how smoothly the move to remote has gone in the legal world, they still ‘struggle [with] communicating and collaborating’ at work. That would seem to suggest things are not as perfect as firms are saying.
Yet, as noted, the majority seem to feel communicating with the lawyers is not causing an issue. What should we make of this paradox? Perhaps this suggests that the problem is that paralegals are not easily communicating with each other when they need to collaborate on work projects, even if ‘orders from the top’ are still getting through easily to them.
Artificial Lawyer asked Athennian CEO, Adrian Camara, about the mental strains on paralegals and whether law firms and inhouse legal teams were well-suited to help there, given that many have an always-on availability culture?
‘49% of respondents surveyed said that unplugging after work is the biggest struggle with remote work. Commuting from the office to home provided a natural pause for everyone to focus on themselves and their families, even if there was evening work to do.
‘In a work from home environment, we must be more intentional about creating that pause in work to allow ourselves and our colleagues to spend time with their families. Culturally, lawyers work very hard and carry work into the evenings and weekends, but the pauses make it more sustainable for everyone,’ Camara said.
He also noted that there was not just a human cost to grinding down key legal staff: ‘The lack of support for paralegals, and their fellow legal administration professionals, places law firms at risk, including firms managing immense amounts of entity and corporate governance data.’
I.e. if you push your people too hard then legal work is going to start going wrong for the clients….and that’s not good for anyone.
Respondents to the global survey were from: North America (USA 50% and Canada 38%). With 10% from the UK. There was a smaller, but valued, response from Australia. 64% of respondents work for a law firm, while 32% work in a legal department. Areas of work varied, but most respondents worked in corporate law. Other areas included contracts, litigation, real estate law IP, tax law, wills, and family law.