Why flexible working changes are good for law firms

What was once unimaginable for many, flexible working is here to stay. Enforced by Covid and perpetuated by the need to attract talent through the offer of hybrid working, the traditional nine-to-five pre-pandemic pattern has been well and truly disrupted.
As promised, the government has now updated legislation to extend the right to submit requests for flexible working from the first day on the job, instead of having to wait 26 weeks as was previously the case – a move The Law Society has been a vocal supporter of.
This change has come at a time when shifts in thinking and lifestyles have aligned to create opportunities for flexible working that many would previously never dreamed of but have now come to expect.
Flexible working in law firms today

Qualifying as a lawyer is a lengthy process and many find the reality of practice, although incredibly rewarding, is stressful and features long hours, large workloads, and an office-based culture. The mentality of the current generation of legal professionals is agile; flexibility in hours worked and location worked from are both high on the list of factors that contribute to improved mental wellbeing and significant factors in any decisions taken on whether to remain in or accept a job.

It’s therefore clear that law firms must prioritise the wellbeing of staff to ensure long-term prosperity and continue to evolve their flexible working arrangements to meet shifting needs. After all, this flexibility now regularly scores higher than salary in terms of what’s important to people.

Flexible working can take various forms including working from home, job-sharing, compressed hours, flexitime and part-time and term-time-only working. Millions across the UK are doing it and law firms must continue to adapt if they’re to retain and attract key personnel.

Recent research suggests law firms still have a long way to go if they are to keep pace with current trends, with just 31% of jobs in the legal sector advertised as flexible and just 6% as part-time when demand for roles of this kind is at an all-time high.

What are the challenges?

Some believe flexible working should be earned and offered only to employees whose performance justifies it. It’s a question of trust, offering the opportunity to work remotely to untried staff without the means to monitor their productivity. There’s also a risk of perhaps creating tensions with existing staff who don’t enjoy the same flexibility. Others believe new hires should spend time in a role before being able to flex the time they spend doing it, so they have a solid understanding of what’s required, and the firm can be comfortable in their ability.  

Perhaps it’s the perception of lawyers as hard-working that leads many law firms to simply not think of offering opportunities as anything other than traditional full-time Monday-to-Friday office-based jobs. Subconsciously, there may be a belief that part-time roles can’t be performed successfully at senior levels or are a sign of a lack of ambition. Of course, many industries have demonstrated neither of these are true.

Could a 4-day week work?

Last month saw the end of a 6-month trial exploring the benefits of a 4-day week. More than 70 UK companies across multiple sectors signed up to pay employees 100% of their salary in exchange for 80% of their time – the expectation being that they maintain 100% output.

The study seeks to identify how a shortened working week impacts wellbeing, productivity, gender equality and the environment. Not to be confused with compressed hours, a 4-day week would involve fewer hours working in the hope it produces energised staff and promotes the quality of output over the quantity.

Developments in technology have already made flexible working viable for millions previously tied to their desks five days a week. Continued progressions in AI will contribute to greater flexibility moving forward with increased automation with employees able to accomplish the same amount of work in less time and still ensure clients are supported.

Whether it can be successful in the legal sector is almost entirely dependent on the firm and area of practice, but the thinking is employees will enjoy a better work-life balance and employers will benefit from increased productivity and lower costs, as well as being an attractive proposition for high-performing talent.

Flexibility is the way forward

Firms offering flexible working will gain a competitive advantage over their peers by prioritising employee wellbeing and building a company culture that drives successful employee acquisition and retention. The fact those employees are happy will mean they’re likely to be more productive and have less time off sick.

Increased diversity can be delivered by opening the legal sector up to a wider audience and extending the talent pool through flexible working practices. Offering options to work remotely, or part-time hours can help attract talent from further afield and encourage parents to see law as an accessible career they can fit around their families.

The list of benefits for both employees and employers continues to grow, so it’s becoming increasingly difficult to deny flexible working is the way forward.

arch.law is a business that offers the ultimate in flexibility and where our lawyers have the freedom to work when and where suits them best. Our clients receive legal solutions from highly qualified and engaged legal professionals that embrace technology to achieve the best results.
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Authored by

Andrew.1
Andrew Leaitherland Founder and CEO
Although Andrew is an employment lawyer by training, over the last fifteen years he has built up extensive experience in leading M&A activity with professional services firms including leading the listing of DWF Group plc on the main market of the London Stock Exchange. Andrew uses these skills to advise strategically on inorganic growth opportunities for all types of professional services businesses, in conjunction with other members of arch who support on the necessary legal work. Andrew is also the Chair of The Legal Director and a NED of Summize which gives him great insight into how the respective businesses can collaborate to further the interests of our clients.

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