Think American lawyers working in Big Law have a monopoly on stress and despair? Ha! It turns out British lawyers are just as miserable—perhaps even more so. The big difference, though, is that elite U.K. firms talk a good line about promoting work/life balance, while most American firms don’t even pretend to give a hoot.

U.K. publication The Lawyer recently devoted an issue to stress, built around a survey of 446 lawyers based in Great Britain—and the findings are fascinating. Here are some of the key points:

- Almost all lawyers (even part-timers) are miserable. “Over 40 per cent of lawyers working more than 75 hours per week rated themselves as 10 out of 10 on the stress scale,” reports The Lawyer. But those who work fewer than 35 hours per week are not that much happier: Over half of them “rated themselves at least 7 out of 10 on the stress scale, suggesting that simply cutting down on hours does not necessarily cut down on stress.”

- Too much work/too little time is the leading source of stress. “Over 70 per cent of trainees [junior lawyers] and non-partners cite this factor as a chief cause of stress.” For junior lawyers, the second biggest source of stress was “difficult/unpleasant superiors.”

- Magic Circle firms make a big fuss about work/life balance. Almost 70 per cent of Magic Circle lawyers say their management promotes the concept. In contrast, about 70 percent of the U.K.-based lawyers from U.S. firms say their management make little effort to encourage work/life balance.

- Magic Circle firms take the lead on stress policies. More than 40 percent of respondents from this group say that their firms have initiatives in place to address stress. In contrast, only 6 per cent of the respondents from U.S. firms did so. Overall, 17 percent of respondents say their firms have stress management programs.

- Magic Circle firms are the real sweat shops. Both junior and senior lawyers at the U.K. outposts of U.S. firms worked shorter hours than their U.K. firm counterparts (but still made more money!). Moreover, “some 46 percent of magic circle lawyers typically work in excess of 65 hours per week compared with 20 percent of their US firm peers.”

That last point is key. As the reports notes, it’s a no-brainer to see the correlation between long hours and the level of discontent. Despite all the Magic Circle hype about managing stress and finding work/life balance, the bottom line is that U.K. lawyers at Magic Circle firms work harder—quite a bit harder—than their colleagues at American firms in London.

Fittingly, The Lawyer calls Magic Circle lawyers “the most cynical.” (Half of them believe “that their firm’s talk of work-life balance was merely lip service.”)

Nothing like stress mixed with a dollop of cynicism for good morale. All things considered, let’s just stick with the crass, show-me-the-money style of the Yanks.

E-mail: vchen@alm.com Twitter: https://twitter.com/lawcareerist