Squeezing the Life Out of Lawyers: Legal Practice in the Market Embrace

(2016) 25(4) Griffith Law Review 471-491

22 Pages Posted: 24 Apr 2017

Date Written: December 06, 2016


Neoliberalism is the dominant ideology of our time and shows no sign of abating. The undue deference accorded the economy and capital accumulation means that comparatively little attention is paid to the pressures this involves for workers. Although conventionally viewed as privileged professionals, lawyers in corporate law firms have been profoundly affected by the neoliberal turn as firms have expanded from local to national, to global entities, with the aim of maximising profits and making themselves competitive on the world stage. Although corporate clients may be located in a different hemisphere they still expect 24/7 availability of lawyers in contrast to what they normally expect of other professionals, such as accountants. A corollary of global competition is the ratcheting up of billable hours, which has engendered stress and depression. The pressure for firms to be more productive has resulted in increased levels of incivility, including bullying. Despite a plethora of reports attesting to the deleterious effects of stress, scant attention is paid to the neoliberalisation of legal practice. This article argues that the tendency to individualise and pathologise the adverse effects of stress and uncivil behaviours deflects attention away from the political factors that animate them.

Keywords: lawyers, neoliberalism, long hours culture, incivility, wellbeing, work/life balance

JEL Classification: J81, J88, K40

Suggested Citation

Thornton, Margaret, Squeezing the Life Out of Lawyers: Legal Practice in the Market Embrace (December 06, 2016). (2016) 25(4) Griffith Law Review 471-491. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2956228

Margaret Thornton (Contact Author)

ANU College of Law ( email )

Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 0200

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