20% Want To Leave The Law, Can Legal Tech Help?

A global survey of lawyers by the IBA has found that a fifth of those under 40 wanted to leave the profession, citing work-life balance as a key cause for concern, while over half of those who are staying in the law still want to find a new role. Many also expressed a desire for on-the-job legal tech training. But the question for this site is: can tech help here? The answer is: yes, if other things change at the same time.

The International Bar Association (IBA) survey gathered data from over 3,000 people during 2020, spread across the planet. In fact US and UK lawyers were only a small part of the survey sample. However, the key themes seem to be universal.

As can be seen below, the ‘young lawyers’ i.e. those under 40, are heavily pulled to new roles by higher salaries (70%), but they are also looking for a better work-life balance (51%).

IBA Data.

And the survey also found that in terms of ‘push’ factors, that aside from obvious things like the desire for more money and career progression, we also saw: ‘poor workplace culture, impact on mental health / well-being, and poor work-life balance‘ as reasons to leave.

I.e. firms and inhouse teams are pushing out their own talent because of conditions that people no longer want to tolerate. And if a business cannot have any control over its own working culture then what can it have a say about….? (Of course, it may not want to change…..)

IBA Data.

The challenge is that – and it of course does not have to be this way, but so often is…….. higher pay in the legal world tends to mean very long hours, more pressure, more exhaustion, and the loss of work-life balance.

Can lawyers find a lasting balance? That is the question.

Once again the central dilemma is writ large: people who have worked hard to get into the profession want some satisfaction from it, yet also want to have a life beyond work – but many roles inevitably come with crushing hours that remove any equilibrium, and due to the high level of process work that is still required in the law, much of the satisfaction may evaporate even if people can deal with the time demands.

It chimes exactly with the AL article last week about whether legal tech can help with burn out. Which leads to the next point. Although ‘40 per cent of respondents view AI and legal technology training as key to their staying relevant in the future’, that is perhaps not the pathway out of this scenario on its own. Having knowledge of ‘AI’ and tech tools is not exactly going to change things by itself.

What will change things are two major shifts:

  1. Limits on total hours per week,
  2. And then the use of tech at scale to make those hours really valuable for the lawyers, and in turn for the clients.

As long as lawyers are expected to use ‘elbow grease’ and endless hours to get the job done – and as long as commercial clients keep sustaining this model through their own demands – then nothing significant can change.

Lawyers will keep wanting to move to better places, and then face the complex dilemma of expecting good pay while searching for the elusive work-life balance, yet they will keep getting stuck in a world where time-based economics leave little room to manoeuvre.

The only way to get out of this dilemma, it seems to this site, is to limit the time you work – i.e. so the ‘life’ part of the equation grows, and then when you are at work, you utilise tech to ensure that this work is as meaningful (and valuable) as possible – to you and the clients.

Would that translate into the mega-pay offers and bonuses we see today? Nope. But, could it still mean very healthy salaries and an impressive standard of living? Yes.

Lawyers can then focus on their jobs, rather than dreaming (in their very limited spare time) of new and better roles outside the profession, or somewhere else in the law.

Or….we can just keep going with the same old recipe of: more hours, not much tech, more burn out, so more departures, and then paying more, and more bonuses, to try and keep people, and the whole cycle keeps on turning as more and more people leave a profession they worked incredibly hard to get into.


  1. This is fine to say.

    And then the use of tech at scale to make those hours really valuable for the lawyers, and in turn for the clients.

    Everyone is saying it. But what technology (out of the massive volume of new – and old – offerings) will actually make their lives better? No survey on the specifics. Not even products…functionality.

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