Flexible Working for Lawyers: How Far Can you Flex?

19 May 2017 | 9 min read

A growing cohort of law firms have introduced formal agile working policies since legislation was introduced in 2014 extending the right to request flexible working to all employees in 2014. Many of us are aware that we have a legal right to request flexible working and that our employer has a legal obligation not only to answer but to also provide a valid reason if they cannot say yes. Moreover, it is becoming more and more acceptable for lawyers to be given flexible working opportunities in law firms. 

On National Work From Home Day (19 May 2017) which is part of the Work Wise Week to promote modern “smarter” working practices such as agile, flexible, remote and mobile working, as well as working from home, we are publishing two posts examining flexible working for lawyers and top tips and tools to make the move to flexible working smoother. 

Our first post is by Beyzade Beyzade who works as a Senior Associate Solicitor (also a qualified barrister) at The London Law Practice, a virtual law firm that fully embraces the virtues of flexible working. He gives his top tips and examines some of the best practices across the legal sector.

Planning for working remotely

We’ve got all types of remote working preferences here at The London Law Practice which is an entirely remote workforce. Working remotely, though, isn’t all laptop-on-a-beach-in-Hawaii. It takes planning and thoughtfulness. We have to look at ways of making things work like a well-oiled machine, especially in terms of communications, because you can’t just rely on that quick question face to face time with your colleagues or secretary. It is up to you to keep on top of who is available, everyone's schedules, Wi-Fi strength, time-zones, and more in mind, eventually hitting an optimal team productivity level.

If you’re itching to join the remote workforce (currently estimated at 3.7 million and expected to rise exponentially over the next few years), you’ll need to make sure you have the tools for everything from hardware, file management/storage, communication ability, remote chat right the way through to remote flipchart sessions. Our post later will look into these further.

In a successful forward thinking law firm, it is also desirable to have modern case management software that can be accessed with a web interface from anywhere in the world. This will enable you to open and close files, record time, save documents, edit documents, and important – to issue and to track invoices. It is also helpful to be able to access the case management system via an App so that you can record meeting notes and time ‘on the move’.

Flexible working – my top five tips to make it a success

  1. It goes a long way to be realistic about what work can be done flexibly and consider where, when and how it is to be done. Be honest with yourself!;
  2. Make sure that your law firm has a positive culture towards flexible work with give and take on both sides. Set a good example with your own practices;
  3. Spend some time in terms of research and money and make use of technology to facilitate working away from the office. This will help efficiency and reaching those all-important billing targets in the long run;
  4. Consider and mitigate any potential effect this may have on clients and the rest of the team who may be working in the office or semi-remotely: and
  5. It is a good idea to be flexible and to carry out regular reviews of the flexible work arrangement and be prepared to make changes, if there is a better way.

Biggest challenges to working effectively (and some solutions)

Challenge: Procrastination! Procrastination! Procrastination! Many tell me if they were given the chance to work remotely, they would not be able to trust themselves. Consider whether it would be far too tempting to take long lunch breaks, to just leave work and go shopping, to watch several episodes of Suits while you should be working. You need to have the confidence in yourself and the ability to be able to manage your workload effectively. It is perfectly acceptable to take time out to do fun things when you are working remotely provided that you manage your commitments. It will no doubt take quite some time for a few of us to get into the routine and discipline.

Solution: The belief and rather outdated idea that flexible working disrupts work-life balance is simply misguided. According to research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, over 50% of employees feel that flexible working helps them achieve a better work–life balance.

Flexible working should not be limited to those individuals who approach the Staff Partner to request it due to practical difficulties e.g. childcare issues.  Flexible working is a strategic operational opportunity for a law firm, it can increase productivity and it can give any one of us a greater chance to control and to consider how best to spend and to allocate our time.

Challenge: Keeping on top of client care (first rule of being a good solicitor) Some of your more traditional clients and co-workers may be uncomfortable in terms of working with you remotely. It may seem strange at first. It may take time to adapt. It may also take time for you to show people that you can work just as effectively from a remote location as you would be working in the office.

Solution: Many of us are worried that flexible working could cause problems with client care. How will your high end client react if you are not in the office to answer your telephone at 09.00am precisely?

There is tons of research that proves that flexible working actually helps in providing better client service. In fact, flexible working helps you spend more time with your customers, partners or colleagues.  Many of us find it easier to say “Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm, I’m going to be sitting in my office”. But actually, with the right culture and tools, why can’t we work from our clients’ premises or anywhere? We should be more connected to our customers and interact with them – we can make that happen if we want to.

Challenge: Trust issues. Colleagues may wonder whether you are actually working, whether you can complete work within agreed timescales, and whether you are meeting clients’ expectations. In addition, clients may be wary of using a lawyer who is not available at the end of a telephone during normal working hours. There are no easy solutions in terms of how to address the in trepidation that some people may feel. A lot of this will depend upon trust, which takes time to build.

Solution: To make flexible working work, you need to build trust with your firm. “Trust me I’m a Lawyer” – I hear you say! The true benefits of flexible working can only be achieved when you set out goals and build trust to achieve those ends. Trust has to exist and be built over time – it is not simply a matter of sending loads of emails to your senior partner during a very early time in the morning just to prove that you are up and working. That should not be necessary if you are building trust and working effectively.

Challenge: Not being given the choice to work flexibly. Some firms just will not give the opportunity for flexible working as there is still the belief that being in the office is necessary to ensure quality control and that lawyers are working efficiently. This creates barriers for many whom see their counter parts working flexibly and there is evidence that this may also hinder career progression.

Solution: It is said that 55% of workers are still required by employers to work from the office within designated working hours. Now more than ever partners, senior partners, staff partners, and anyone else in a law firm in charge of HR needs to overcome the myth that work can only happen in the office. Employers need to embrace flexible working to give employees the right kind of environment to be productive anytime, anywhere. Take footwear company Vivo barefoot for example. The business sells shoes online and boasts a store in London’s shopping mecca Covent Garden. Upgrading their office infrastructure helped the company have a connected business, anywhere. They used Office 365’s tools and applications to not only collaborate with their team from different locations but also to work with manufacturers, wholesale and distributor partners.

Challenge: Not having the right technology

Solution: The true benefits of flexible working can only be realised by having the right technology. Investing in the right technology does not have to cost an arm and a leg, especially with cloud-based subscription models e.g. Microsoft and Apple. Most small to medium sized law firms which take the time to choose the right technology will reap the rewards long term. From tending to customer needs to collaborating with colleagues, the right flexible working technologies directly contribute to the success and performance of a solicitor and the business.

The Future

Now you have the tools to overcome these challenges, and it is hoped that the above will act as a ‘cheat sheet’ on all things cloud and mobile – two necessary factors to make working remotely a reality. Enable your law firm to work with you flexibly to get more done without necessarily working more hours and spending a lot more money. In fact, you can choose to work more hours, how many more hours to work, if you want to increase your billing and earnings/bonus potential. Cloud and mobile technologies can help everyone work better, on their own and with the team, wherever they work. Everyone wins when they work in a more efficient manner

Beyzade Beyzade works as a Senior Associate Solicitor (also a qualified barrister) at The London Law Practice, a virtual law firm that fully embraces the virtues of flexible working. He can be contacted at beyzade@londonlawpractice.com or on his direct line number 0203 302 3950.

Read more from the Future of Law blog on working flexibly and remote working

Filed Under: Practice of Law

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