Why Your Law Firm Needs Flexible Working

In an industry that’s renowned for long hours, relentless client demands and inflexibility, law firms that offer balance and flexible working could gain a significant competitive advantage.

A recent survey of around 1500 professionals in Australia and New Zealand found that 40 per cent of jobseekers will turn down a role that does not meet their flexible working needs. With this in mind, how can Australian law firms encourage flexible working and make sure they attract the best legal talent?

Looking to greener pastures

It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that money is the largest motivator for employees, especially for lawyers in large firms. But in most cases, it’s an inaccurate assumption. In fact, the number of dispersed or alternative law firms and virtual lawyers popping up in Australia tells a very different story about the true desires of legal professionals.

Fortune recently released a list of the best firms for working mums in the United States, and it’s interesting to note that all the firms on the list offer reduced hours and flex-time, as well as paid paternity and adoption leave.

It appears the ‘flexibility failure’ of more traditional practices has led lawyers to either look elsewhere for flexible arrangements or create their own ‘ideal’ firm. Jane Wright and Lauren Barel, two job-sharing senior associates at Freehills, did just that when they were told to apply for a promotion separately and compete against each other for it. Instead, they decided to leave and set up their own workplace investigations firms, Workdynamic.

Lauren says they originally turned to job-sharing because of a desire for interesting work. “We found people who work part-time don’t really get the good work, job sharing was a way to get that good work… Job sharing means that my days off are truly days off, as I know that Jane is handling things in her usual capable way.”

So how do you make sure top talent doesn’t walk out the door?

Tap into that talent pool

Offering alternative or flexible work arrangements simply opens up the talent pool. It may also mean that you can place a reduced salary package on the table in return for accommodating your employees’ flexibility requests.

Consider creative options and ask for employee input in order to craft the best solution. Some examples include nine-day fortnights, job sharing, paid parental leave, working from home part-time or for a set number of hours each week, or an extra week of holidays per year.

Time for a tech audit

Perform an assessment of your firm’s technology capabilities. For example, look at cloud-based software and apps for your practice so your lawyers can have a high degree of mobility and access their files on the go or from home. If you’re concerned about the supervision and monitoring of employees, check in using videoconferencing software such as GoToMeeting, Skype for Business or FaceTime.

Perception is everything: Be genuine

In a recent Robert Walters study, over half of employee respondents were worried they would be perceived to have a poor work ethic if they worked flexibly, while 43 per cent were concerned they would experience negative career consequences as a result.

Perception is everything. If you’re going to offer flexible work arrangements as an employer, be genuine and provide your full support to staff. Don’t punish flexible workers by offering more challenging work to full-time workers, and encourage open discussions about how to accommodate business needs with your employees.

Everyone needs to recognise that there will be times when the demands of a legal case may override a flexible agreement, particularly in a busy litigation context. However, an open and frank dialogue between employees and firms can help stave off any resentment about changed plans or altered arrangements.

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