Around 2013, a new kind of flexible worker emerged on the photo-sharing social media platform, Instagram. Taking the concept of flexible (and indeed worker, although that is another article) to an entirely new level, accounts such as @wheresmyofficenow waved goodbye to the more static based notion of flexible working. They became part of a movement sweeping across the mindset of the millennial generation: the flexible worker with no fixed home base, often living out of a van.
Questioning everything from the concept of work right down to the notion that we should remain in one place to do it, these nomadic individuals began documenting life and work from the road and posting photos to Instagram, in answer to the question where’s my office now.
Fast forward to 2019 and this way of life is a growing movement – a sub-culture of people on the move, many of which are embracing minimalism and attempting to reassess what is truly important for a happy and balanced life. All of which is documented for envy and inspiration through the hashtag #vanlife, which currently includes more than five million photos on Instagram.
Where millennial influencers lead, others are sure to follow.
Technology and flexible working
Back in the legal world, flexible working as a concept is growing. “As more companies are working agile policies into their contracts, the legal market as a whole is thriving, with even more talented individuals either entering or returning to the workforce” we noted back in December 2018.
For too long, the concept of lawyers working from the beach, forest or up a mountain has been a reaction to technology in the worst way – overworked city lawyers never switching off, accessing email and responding to client requests from their holidays as efficiently as from their desks, perpetuating a ‘always on’ approach.
The legal market is generally waking up to the idea that flexible working can and should mean “finding hours that suit your life and how you best work” (Anna Whitehouse, Flexible working campaign) which in time will no doubt mean that we will see lawyers and those working in legal markets working from remote locations.
As Louisa Van Eeden-Smit commented in her piece for The Attic last year, “flexible working is just one of the ways the modern legal workforce can work smarter, rather than harder”. In theory, the van life way of life should be able to include lawyers, facilitated largely of course by the advance of technology.
“Taken at its most basic, laptops and smartphones mean that lawyers can be online and contactable 24/7, no matter where they are in the world… add to that the plethora of cutting-edge legal tools, such as case management software, and it’s clear that legal professionals can remain connected to both their clients and colleagues without being physically present in the office. They can execute tasks, securely access shared files, issue and review contracts, send out invoices, and much more.”
Are lawyers working flexibly on a remote global scale?
Search Instagram for #travellinglawyer and you’ll find over a thousand photos mainly from exotic-looking locations, with the occasional British city / county court thrown in for good measure. This is an improvement on the landscape of five years ago, but it seems that at present the majority of travelling lawyers are fitting in their wanderlust lifestyle around their legal career rather than it forming an integral part.
For some, frequent travel from a fixed base is the basis of their current story. They use their Instagram profiles to highlight the places that they visit outside of client boardrooms and the causes that they represent.
Juanita Ingram, a US attorney, author and actress based in the US and London (who founded the Greater London branch of Dress For Success, a charitable organisation that “helps disadvantaged women become economically independent by providing them with free professional clothing and styling and interview coaching, as well as on-going support after they’ve re-joined the workplace”) uses her Instagram and other social media channels to showcase her international travels where she speaks on various topics regarding female empowerment and self-worth.
The Legal Eagle Mummy is a lawyer and disability rights advocate whose daughter’s heart condition means she has had to travel abroad for treatment. Anonymous on Instagram, she has been able to work remotely whilst also using her photographs to raise awareness.
For others, every spare moment away from the office is spent travelling. They do not yet appear to be working in the same way that those embracing #vanlife are but they are helping build the vision that being a dedicated and brilliant lawyer does not mean remaining in the office 365 days a year.
Kathy Kass is a New York Attorney who spends weekends and holidays travelling and taking part in marathons, documenting her travels online.
The anonymous Caffelawyer is a lawyer working for a magic circle firm in London, splitting his time between London and Milan.
When is a travelling lawyer not a lawyer?
On the flip side, the #travellinglawyer hashtag also reveals those for whom the call of remote travel has proved lucrative enough to take a break from law altogether. Prominent #vanlife contributor Lisa Jacobs was a lawyer, as was Felipe Villegas Múnera.
Both Lisa and Filipe now spend their lives travelling and posting scenes of their travels and methods of transport, providing inspiration of where others could work, monetising their travels in a different way entirely.
Interestingly, many of these ex-lawyers are still happy to share that they were lawyers, which may well encourage others to consider whether they can both travel and work in the legal market.
More soberingly though, for some van life is more of a necessity than a chosen way of life. Liam Seward is not a lawyer, but others in his position could be. Some are teachers, others charity workers. They live remotely because they have to, because they can’t afford to work and rent and living in a van affords them the ability to continue working.
Where is the future of flexible working?
It is becoming accepted across the board that not everyone seeks to be a partner in the traditional model and a better balance in life is sought right across the profession, from trainees right the way up to experienced partners. Magic circle firms are bringing in flexible working policies allowing all staff to request to work from home. Big law firms are setting up offshoots to address specific types of legal issues staffed entirely by lawyers who choose where and when to work. And of course, there are employers like at Obelisk who make the most of legal talent with a uniquely flexible and remote workforce.
The more that this occurs and people talk about it, or photograph it and share it on social media, the more others will start to listen and follow suit. The mere presence of any lawyers on Instagram showcasing life outside of work and the office is positive, even if as yet the realisation of the dream of truly remote flexible working as a lawyer on the road is perhaps more few and far between.
In another five years, we look forward to the #vanlife concept having evolved more fully. We hope that it will include lawyers and others who have up until now been restrained by increasingly outdated models of working.