Flexible working within the legal sector has been a well covered topic within the industry, particularly over the last year or so. According to the Law Gazette, lawyers are the second most stressed professionals in the country, with work:life balance, or a lack of, playing a large part in this. As a result, more firms are transforming the way they work, accommodating flexible working patterns for legal professionals who are concerned about working long hours and having little free time.
This article looks to explore what legal firms are doing to provide more flexible working hours and what further action might be taken in 2020.
What are the benefits of flexible working hours?
Working from home, or ‘remote working’ allows employees to be more in control of their work/life balance. In many cases this can improve productivity and provide some financial benefits.
Allowing employees to work in an environment where they feel comfortable can lead to increased productivity. Recent studies show that staff who work remotely consider themselves to be more productive and motivated than when they are working in an office.
It can also result in less working hours lost to sickness and stress, and can be an excellent way to retain older workers. Older workers sometimes face greater demands in their personal life, such as caring for family members. By offering them more flexibility to manage their other commitments, they are more likely to continue working a full time law job.
Flexible working hours can not only help to retain older employees, it can also help to reduce overall employee turnover. It can be a good way to keep hold of a business’ top performers by placing more trust on them to manage their work/life balance, improving their overall happiness and resulting in improved employee loyalty.
In addition to improved productivity and better staff retention, accommodating a flexible working system can help to reduce operating costs. Remote working also means less office space being used, which means a ‘hot desking’ system can be put in place to reduce the amount of computers required in the workplace. Figures from Global Workplace Analytics in the United States showed that if employers allowed their employees to work remotely 50% of the time, it would save $11,000 a year, on average.
How are legal companies looking to accommodate flexible working?
Many law firms in the United Kingdom have revealed their intention to move towards an agile working environment and that they are aware of the benefits, but how many companies currently offer a flexible working hour system?
A survey completed by the Legal Cheek spoke to 2,000 trainees and junior associates at the leading law firms in London and the UK regarding flexible working. Although achieving a good work/ life balance is not just about avoiding long working hours, firms that do reduce average arrive & leave times usually score well in surveys which focus on employee happiness.
We also ran a survey in 2018, where 40% of lawyers said they thought flexible working was the most important benefit to them when looking for a new job.
Currently, a number of companies are rolling out flexible working opportunities or are conducting trials. Below we look at a range of options offered by UK firms, which cater towards a more agile working system, according to research completed by thelawyer.com.
Addleshaw Goddard: Offers a home working policy to most staff and fee earners across its offices.
Ashurst :Provides flexible working options to lawyers and non-legal staff which includes working from home & 7am-3pm working days.
BLM: Flexible working for staff at its London office.
Capsticks: Allows most employees to work from home and lawyers now ‘hot desk’.
Clifford Chance: Encourages partners to work from home when possible.
Herbert Smith Freehills: Lawyers can work from home once a week.
Macfarlanes: All lawyers have been allowed to work from home once a fortnight since 2016.
Mills & Reeve: Employees who have 26 weeks continuous service can request a flexible working arrangement.
Mishcon de Reya: The Managing Partner has permitted lawyers to work as many or as few days as they want.
Schillings: Offers voluntary agile working to lawyers & staff, with the suggestion that employees come to the office 2 days a week. This option is not offered to paralegals, legal secretaries and client services staff.
Slaughter & May: Allows partners and associates to work from home one day a week following a successful trial.
Travers Smith: Permits agile working but has no formal policy, instead allows the individual to determine whether they are better served working in the office or from home.
What changes can we expect to see in 2020 and beyond?
Following the following the Taylor Review and the Good Work Plan, firms such as Burges Salmon are preparing to make changes to its working systems as reforms are set to come into force on 6th April 2020.
These changes include:
The right for workers and employees to work variable hours, which includes a more predictable and stable contract after 26 weeks of continuous service. This will work in the same way as employees are currently allowed to request flexible working.
There will be an increase from 1 week to 4 weeks in the period between assignments that will constitute as a break in continuous service. This will give more intermittent workers a chance to build up the necessary service required at the same employer in order to qualify for benefits such as flexible hours and working remotely. As it stands, just a one week gap would break this continuity.
Flexible working is seen as a benefit which is rewarded to loyal and hard-working employees, but can also be beneficial to law firms who want to move away from a traditional office based environment. Recent reforms in terms of employment law will result in more companies adopting flexible working practices, but numerous studies and trials show that it can be an effective way to get the most out of employees.