Embracing flexible working

The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped the way we work, and perhaps one of the most significant transformations has been the widespread adoption of hybrid working arrangements. As the UK inches closer to pre-pandemic norms, the concept of hybrid working has firmly entrenched itself in the employment landscape.

Characterised by a blend of office-based and remote work, hybrid working has become the accepted practice for many UK businesses. Initially prompted by a response to national health and safety concerns, it has quickly evolved into a long-term strategy aimed at boosting employee morale, productivity, and retention.

However, employers and employees alike are grappling with the challenges and opportunities that come with this newfound flexibility and continue to seek a way forward on flexible working that is agreeable to both parties. Some companies have fully embraced remote work, while others are actively engineering a return to the office. Finding a balance that works for both employers and staff has become a priority, but the process is not straightforward, and individual firms have to strike the right balance that suits them, their staff, and their clients.

Current practices

In its Flexible and hybrid working practices in 2023 report, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) states that 83% of UK organisations offer hybrid working, with an increasing number recognising it as a core element of their strategy when advertising new positions. Furthermore, it highlights that 60% of employees currently report enjoying flexible working arrangements and a growing trend in the number of employees requesting flexible working.

Despite these statistics, only 45% of organisations reported having a formal hybrid working policy, however, that number is expected to increase following the introduction of the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023.

Within the legal sector, the shift towards flexible working policies has been driven by a number of factors, including changing attitudes towards work-life balance, the rise of remote work, and the need for greater flexibility in the face of unexpected events such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Firms had to move away from providing legal services face-to-face and instead embrace a remote delivery model. Clients have shown themselves only too willing to adapt and are comfortable accessing legal expertise digitally using self-service tools, which has changed the industry forever.

Research by Access Legal suggests over 85% of legal professionals have not returned to working from the office 5 days a week post-pandemic. In a sector considered very traditional in its working practices, more than half of respondents now spend more of their working week at home than in the office.

The challenges

One of the biggest challenges facing law firms in adopting flexible working policies is the need to maintain high levels of productivity and client service. Lawyers are often required to work long hours and meet tight deadlines, and concerns have been raised that flexible working policies may lead to a decrease in productivity and quality of work.

A further challenge is the need to maintain effective communication and collaboration among team members. In a traditional office setting, it is easy to communicate and collaborate with colleagues, but in a remote or hybrid working environment, this can be more challenging. Some feel junior associates are not getting the necessary training, experience, and exposure to enable them to thrive, which has long-term implications for all firms and the wider industry. Lawyers rely on relationships, but many new to the sector do not have the frequent in-person interactions with peers, colleagues, or clients needed to enable relationships to develop.

Studies point towards an increasing number of young lawyers seeking support with concerns about their careers, citing worries about financial and job security as causes of stress and anxiety. Junior staff members may miss out on informal mentorship and supervision that often occurs in an office setting; an issue that has been raised previously and given rise to The Law Society publishing guidelines on suggested best practices for managing junior staff remotely.

Furthermore, if direct interaction with senior colleagues is limited, this could impact not only their professional growth, but also the development of the softer skills refined by sitting with senior partners, negotiating with other parties, or dining with clients. These are skills you cannot learn virtually.

Finally, law firms must also navigate the legal and regulatory framework surrounding flexible working policies. There may be specific laws and regulations governing issues such as working hours, health and safety, and data protection that must be considered when implementing flexible working policies.

The opportunities

Despite the challenges, flexible working has emerged as a powerful strategy for law firms to thrive in today’s dynamic legal landscape and revolutionise the way legal professionals work and interact with clients. Organisations with progressive, forward-thinking cultures are more likely to fully embrace and adapt to hybrid work practices and this flexibility has translated into increased productivity, as legal professionals optimise their work environments for maximum efficiency.

Implementing flexible working can be challenging for law firms without strong leadership and management. Effective leaders can create a culture of trust and accountability and provide clear guidance and support for employees to ensure they have the necessary resources, support, and technology to work remotely.

By offering greater flexibility, firms can attract and retain top talent, increase job satisfaction, and reduce overhead costs. Additionally, flexible working policies can help firms to become more resilient and adaptable in the face of unexpected events. Studies have also shown that flexible working policies can increase productivity and job satisfaction, as employees are able to work in an environment that suits their needs and preferences.

In a wider context, a flexible model allows law firms to tap into a global talent pool and recruit the best legal minds, allowing them to expand their expertise, take on diverse cases, and offer clients specialised services from experts located anywhere in the world. Lawyers can offer enhanced client service and be more accessible to provide their expertise across different time zones, meaning law firms can better accommodate international clients and respond promptly to their needs. Technology enables real-time updates and smoother communication, ultimately boosting client satisfaction.

Remote work environments may teach staff greater self-reliance and independence, enabling them to acquire the digital skills to integrate new technologies more rapidly. Legal professionals are required to be more proactive in seeking out collaboration and networking opportunities when working remotely and the modern ways of working are encouraging firms to implement inclusive practices that ensure all staff members, regardless of location, have access to resources and support.

Additionally, Partners and team leaders can set realistic and measurable goals, monitor progress, and provide regular feedback to foster collaboration and a sense of belonging. By creating a supportive and flexible work environment, law firms can attract and retain top talent, improve employee satisfaction and productivity, and ultimately, achieve better business outcomes.

However, while there are many benefits to flexible working policies, there are also a number of challenges that law firms must navigate in order to successfully adopt this approach.

The future is flexible

Advances in technology have made it easier than ever to stay connected and collaborate remotely, and the rise of remote work and flexible schedules has made technology an essential tool in enabling law firms to embrace these changes. Cloud-based software and collaboration tools allow lawyers to work from anywhere, at any time, while still maintaining communication and collaboration with their teams and clients. Video conferencing and virtual meeting platforms have also made it possible to conduct meetings and consultations remotely, while document management and e-filing systems allow lawyers to access and share documents securely and easily, without the need for physical copies.

There is no doubt that flexible working is reshaping the legal sector, and while there are challenges firms must navigate, the benefits are clear. The associated flexibility and improved work-life balance are creating a more dynamic and inclusive legal profession. By embracing this approach, law firms can create a more productive, efficient, and resilient workforce that is better equipped to meet the needs of clients in a rapidly changing world.

Lawyers at arch.law can help protect what’s most important. They enjoy the freedom to operate flexible schedules and expand their reach beyond a single geographic location, allowing them to serve clients in different countries. We believe this flexibility is a highly valued element of what sets us apart and a great tool in attracting experienced lawyers to remain or return to practice. Our clients receive tailored legal solutions delivered by highly qualified and engaged professionals able to leverage technology to improve efficiency and collaboration, resulting in faster and more effective legal services.
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Authored by

James Wright
James Wright Talent
James is our head of recruitment and onboarding and has over 9 year’s experience working in a variety of different roles across banking, professional services, and outsourcing. He has considerable experience in developing and improving processes and enhancing the candidate journey. He’s always looking to speak to great lawyers, so do reach out to him.

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