Problems stemming from a toxic work culture and lack of work-life balance are common to young lawyers the world over, according to a new report from the International Bar Association.

An IBA survey of 3,000 young lawyers – those up to age 40 – around the world has found that 20% are thinking about leaving the profession entirely, 33% want to switch to a different area of the profession, and 54% are either "somewhat likely" or "highly likely" to leave their current job in the next five years. 

The research, carried out by the IBA’s Young Lawyers’ Committee and Legal Policy & Research in collaboration with Thomson Reuters market research company Acritas, was undertaken to identify young lawyers’ priorities, interests, and concerns around their jobs and future career plans; whether any such concerns are being adequately addressed by employers; the reasons behind the attrition rates of young lawyers; what factors have contributed/are contributing to the reasons for departure; and what changes should be made to improve working conditions (where necessary).

Lack of work-life balance was a concern for more than 60% per cent of young lawyers in the survey, and 71% of those aged 25 or under; but also 68% of solicitors (apparently private practice) and 66% of female lawyers. Private practice solicitors were more likely to cite work-life balance and mental health issues than their in-house counterparts.

Nine out of ten young lawyers reported experiencing barriers to their career progression, such as balancing commitments, insufficient mentorship and a lack of promotion opportunities.

Failure to address toxic workplace cultures was a concern for 43% of female and 27% of male respondents; and for 44% of the 25 and under age group compared to 28% of those aged 36-40.

Salary, while one of the things that attracts young lawyers to the law, was the most-cited factor pushing young lawyers out of their current roles; but 54% named flexible working as key to the long-term continuity of the profession, while 40% viewed artificial intelligence and legal technology training as critical for their future.

The survey report includes regional breakdowns of the results for Africa, Arab, Asia Pacific, Europe, Latin American and North America.

To combat the exodus of young lawyers, the IBA outlines seven areas for action with the aim of creating a healthier and more fulfilling profession for all, from implementing and/or reviewing work-life balance related policies and initiatives, and acknowledging and addressing the mental wellbeing concerns of young lawyers, to keeping abreast of the latest developments in legal technology and training lawyers accordingly.

In a foreword to the report, IBA President Sternford Moyo commented: "The young lawyers of today are the senior leaders of tomorrow, so understanding their concerns today will help to shape the profession for the future. Relevant across the globe, this research should be carefully considered with action in mind."

Marco Monaco Sorge and Marie Caroline Brasseur, co-chairs of the IBA’s Young Lawyers' Committee, add: "High turnover of young lawyers can cause problems on many levels, including the disruption of productivity and damage to client relationships. By understanding what drives young lawyers and by building a culture of support and engagement, legal institutions will benefit from an inspired and motivated workforce. This report will be a very useful tool for law firms and businesses in planning the management and retention of their talent."

Click here to access the report.