Knowledge Centre

Flexibility in the Legal Sector

Written By - Hassan Ditta - January 29,2020

Having a good work-life balance is really important for many of us nowadays. Being able to work from home or leave the office early to beat the rush-hour traffic, get to a dentist appointment or do the school pick-up is extremely attractive. Increasingly solicitors are looking to work for firms that offer flexible working over those that continue to observe the traditional models of working.

This is particularly the case for lawyers with young children, many of whom would jump at the chance to be able to adapt their working hours to fit in with the school run, sports days and other commitments. As a mum to two young children myself, I understand the struggle working parents experience when trying to balance their professional and personal commitment and how flexible working can make a huge difference.

While traditionally, law firms have stringently stuck to 8+ hour days and office-based working, in recent years, things have begun to change. Law firms are realising the benefits of offering flexi-time, home working or part-time contracts, not only in terms of attracting new recruits, but also to retain existing staff. Firms are focusing more on the results their solicitors produce rather than on the hours they work and whereabouts they work those hours.

This is particularly true in private client law (the area of the market I specialise in), where many solicitors are settled at their current firms and not actively looking to make a move. Because private client solicitors are passive candidates, law firms have to think outside the box in order to pique the interest of potential employees. One way in which they are doing this is by introducing flexible working.

Even at many larger, national firms, traditionally known to be more rigid in the way they work, home-working and flexible hours are becoming more common. Law firms who refuse to adapt their working patterns or offer flexible working risk losing out on top talent.

Most lawyers know about this move towards agile working, but many are unaware of just how widespread flexibility is within the legal profession. Even if they are unhappy at their current firm, those who already work at home or part-time may be put off looking for a new role, simply because they think they wouldn’t be able to get the same flexibility at another firm. Equally, those who have not moved in a number of years might not think about exploring other opportunities because they are unaware that they might be able to work from home or reduce their hours at another firm.

I recently spoke to a solicitor who currently works until 2pm to allow her to pick up her children from school. She had been at her current firm for several years and didn’t realise that other firms might also be willing to accommodate these hours. When I initially explained her situation to the law firm she was applying to, they hadn’t thought about taking on someone with this working pattern, but because of her extensive experience and skill set, they are now seriously considering her.

It’s true that at some firms, flexi-time or home-working is limited to parents or more senior solicitors, but at many other firms, flexible working policies are company-wide. Where policies do not apply across the board, many firms work on a case-by-case basis and are open to considering reduced hours or agile working at the recruitment stage for the right person.

For example, at the end of last year, I placed a private client solicitor who was looking to work flexibly after returning from maternity leave. While she is still at a relatively early stage of her career at 2 years’ PQE, the national firm she has moved to have agreed to her working a 4-day- week until her child starts nursery, giving her an extra day a week with her daughter.