flexible working for freelancing lawyers
Making Work, Work

Almost all lawyers who apply to become legal consultants at Obelisk Support look for some flexibility as part of their new freelancing career. Unheard of until the 2000s, flexible working is a growing trend in the legal industry whose meaning is largely open to interpretation. Here is everything freelance lawyers need to know about flexible working (a.k.a. agile working), how it works, the reality of it and how to achieve their flexible working goals.

What is flexible working in the legal industry?

As defined by the UK government, “flexible working is a way of working that suits an employee’s needs, for example having flexible start and finish times, or working from home.” In addition, all employees have the legal right to request flexible working – not just parents and carers. While the scope is broad, its application varies, particularly in the legal industry.

Let’s start by looking at BigLaw where flexibility for lawyers comes in many flavours, including the “office away from the office” version. In 2018, Allen & Overy piloted a 24-hour office space in South West London to improve on their flexible working offering. Designed to accommodate eight lawyers at any given time, this office (3.5 miles away from HQ) boasted amenities including showers, a cafe and a roof terrace overlooking the River Thames. Eighteen months later, Allen & Overy closed this flexible hub as it did not attract enough interest.

In 2019, most Magic Circle and City firms allow some form of flexible working, sometimes with prior partner approval, other times after a minimum amount of time in role. A recent article claimed that almost three quarters of lawyers at large firms in the U.K. now work from home at least once a month, which would be a welcome sign of changing working practices in the industry.  However, is one day a month enough for you? Is that really what you want or are you looking for a different type of arrangement?

When it comes to freelance lawyering, flexible working should be about what you want but in free market dynamics, it is closer to what the client is ready to accept. While many B2C industries have already accepted flexible working as the norm, some professional services industries are still in the process of adapting and are slow to relax a long-ingrained culture of presenteeism or face-time.

What do flexible working arrangements cover for legal teams?

As it happens, many in-house legal teams are taking a progressive approach to flexible working. Take Mark Maurice-Jones, General Counsel at Nestlé UK & Ireland, who manages his legal team of 15 lawyers on a flexible working basis. “At Nestlé,” he told The Attic, “we have a policy that discusses the various elements of flexible work, whether it’s a number of working hours, a reduction of working hours, a reduction of number of days or working from outside the office. All these are part of the flexible working policy, a policy that’s updated regularly and that applies to all employees in the United Kingdom and Ireland.”

For flexible working to happen, a crucial factor needs to be in place – technology. Louisa van Eeden-Smit from LexisNexis says that as the legal market changes, different, more agile working models are on the rise, from portfolio careers to flexible working. Technology is the catalyst of most agile working practices for freelance lawyers and by necessity, freelance lawyers have been early adopters of appropriate tech tools. From the remote worker’s tech arsenal to sustainable home offices, flexible working lawyers are usually well equipped to work on secure cloud environments and manage legal tasks while maintaining communication channels open with clients.

What is the reality of flexible working hours for freelance lawyers?

So, with these opportunities beginning to emerge, can going freelance help you work more flexibly?

Whilst you will need to accommodate clients’ standard working requirements to an extent, you are not committed to them in the same way that a full-time employee is.  Agreeing your preferred working practices at the start of an engagement and then sticking to them allows you to demonstrate that you are able to provide a great service, without necessarily being on-site all the time. 

At the start of a working relationship, you will need to invest time getting to know your new colleagues and stakeholders.  Be aware that this might necessitate some more time on-site at the beginning of a contract as you build up your new network.  However, with many companies and their suppliers operating global teams, freelancers often find that meeting in person is soon replaced with conference calls and video conferences.  Indeed, your preference for working outside of normal working hours, for example early in the morning or after the kids’ bedtime, may turn into an advantage – as you will be able to pick up calls and work at times that suit colleagues in Asia or the US.

Operating as a freelance legal consultant also helps you to establish a reputation as a trusted flexible professional.  Pay attention to delivering high-quality work within agreed deadlines and that will be what you are known for, ahead of the fact that you don’t work in the office Monday to Friday. 

Freelance lawyers: beyond work flexibility

June’s report Back to the future: Reshaping law firm culture on the future of work in the legal industry shows that a staggering 83% of workers would consider leaving a firm if it didn’t offer working from home. Law firms are beginning to change their working practices, but they need to do more to catch up with other sectors.

As far as freelance lawyers are concerned, the increased opportunity to utilise flexible working is one of the factors contributing to a healthier work/life balance, along with greater freedom to accommodate caring responsibilities and other personal commitments. Good luck in your professional career as a freelance lawyer and if you want to learn more about flexible working at Obelisk Support, click here.

 

 

 

 

Making Work, Work

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.

© iamjuanitaingram

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.

© The Legal Eagle Mummy

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.

© Caffelawyer

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

© Vacayvans

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.

Making Work, WorkWomen in Law

On 12 July 2010, Obelisk Support was founded. Now one of the fastest-growing independent businesses in Europe, Obelisk Support has become a leading legal services provider with a purpose – to make human first a priority. To celebrate how far we have come with our clients and consultants, here is a true story that illustrates how putting human first and how working differently can make a big difference in the legal world.

Returning Lawyer

This UK-qualified lawyer trained at a City law firm from 1996 to 1998 and worked in their corporate department until 2000 in international securities offerings, M&A transactions and general corporate and commercial work. In 2000, she worked as assistant editor on Global Counsel magazine and in 2001, took a career break for family reasons and raised four children.

Twelve years later in 2013, she heard about Obelisk Support through a friend and with her children in school, she was ready to return to a professional career. She onboarded as an Obelisk consultant and in February 2015, interviewed to work for White & Case in their advisory practice within a busy private equity team. They wanted someone with corporate experience, someone who would be happy to muck in and help out. This was perfect for E who was selected out of four lawyers and joined the team shortly after.

E’s story is a very inspiring one for anyone who thinks that they’ve been out of the legal world for too long. When you are determined and hard-working, you can do it.

Corporate Lawyer

Bilingual French/English, this UK-qualified lawyer started her career as a paralegal and then joined Puxon Murray LLP in 2009 where she trained and qualified as a corporate solicitor.  It was a small firm (two partners) with a mainly SME- client base but she gained great experience in corporate, litigation and some IP, trademark work. She had done some translation work as well, and had experience in telecoms (company sale/ agreements/ regulation/data protection).

She left in 2014 as she really wanted to progress her career and became a freelance lawyer.

In 2014, she found out about Obelisk on LinkedIn and signed up as an Obelisk legal consultant.

In April 2015, White & Case asked for “a lawyer on 3-month contract, a lawyer to support some senior lawyers in their team with general corporate work, private equity and private company experience.” She interviewed with two other lawyers and was selected, starting right away. The 3-month contract ended up lasting over a year at which point, White & Case was so enthusiastic with her work that they offered her a permanent position.

For D, a freelancing career was a springboard to permanent employment in the legal industry.

Obelisk turns 8

Making Work, WorkWomen in Law

On 12 July 2010, Obelisk Support was founded. Now one of the fastest-growing independent businesses in Europe, Obelisk Support has become a leading legal services provider with a purpose – to make human first a priority. To celebrate how far we have come with our clients and consultants, here is a true story that illustrates how putting human first and how working differently can make a big difference in the legal world.

This UK-qualified lawyer trained at a Silver Circle law firm and specialised as a corporate lawyer post qualification, before acquiring solid expertise in prime finance at two different investment banks. However after several years in-house, she found herself at a crossroads.

Balancing work and parenthood was difficult, even on a flexible schedule, and she had to consider her career progression.

A few months later, she stopped working at the bank. After a three-year career break, interested in flexible consulting, she contacted Obelisk Support and became an Obelisk legal consultant. Shortly after, the right role came up for her.

Linklaters  was looking for legal support within the Financial Regulation Group. It was a perfect match with this lawyer’s expertise. Given her seniority and depth of expertise, feedback from partners at the law firm was very positive. They found her very thorough and careful, very good at taking points away and working through them, and good at finding appropriate knowhow in the group.

Obelisk turns 8

Making Work, Work

The Attic recently caught up with Mark Maurice-Jones, General Counsel at Nestlé UK & Ireland, to discuss legal team management and flexible working. With 15 members working with the company’s United Kingdom and Ireland divisions, Maurice-Jones’ legal team focuses on internal business partnerships to proactively shape and challenge the company’s business agenda. For Maurice-Jones, flexible working is a common sense work arrangement for modern lawyers – here, he tells us why.

Defining Flexible Work

Starting with the basics, we wanted to know how flexible working was defined at Nestlé UK & Ireland. As it is such a recruitment buzzword, it’s important to know what the phrase encompasses.

“At Nestlé,” said Mark Maurice-Jones, “we have a policy that discusses the various elements of flexible work, whether it’s a number of working hours, a reduction of working hours, a reduction of number of days or working from outside the office. All these are part of the flexible working policy, a policy that’s updated regularly (the current policy dates from 2014) and that applies to all employees in the United Kingdom and Ireland.”

Why Flexible Working?

When you factor in that any of the team do not live close to the location of Nestlé UK & Ireland close to Gatwick Airport, work flexibility becomes a powerful employment tool as well as a driver for a better work-life balance. Indeed, the goal of the flexible working policy at Nestle was to address diversity and inclusion, and also to make sure that people enjoyed a good work-life balance.

In the legal department, several people take advantage of it, particularly when it comes to working in different locations. For two members of the legal team (male and female), working a 4-day week helps them achieve a better work-life balance. Commute is also a big incentive to take up remote working: Issues with public transport? Working from home solves the problem. In this particular instance, work flexibility helps reduce levels of stress.

Last but not least, the type of work they do in the legal depart lends itself to flexible working options. Law is about talking to people; it’s a lot of email correspondence and meetings. “You don’t necessarily have to be located in any one place to do these things,” says Maurice-Jones.

Successes and Challenges of the Flexible Working Lawyer

For Maurice-Jones, flexible working makes a positive difference for everybody. “With the train problems from London to Brighton over the last year,” says Maurice-Jones, “The policy has helped my team on the days that there were strikes.” He adds that working from home has also helped in other instances. “Our office has an open plan environment and it can get a bit noisy. If people need to focus and write something, it is more efficient for them to work from home.”

The feedback on flexible working is very positive and people are appreciative of its impact on their work-life balance.

However, flexible working can only work as long as Maurice-Jones and other lawyers on the legal team continue to have cohesivity within the team and with people working remotely. “I come into the office most of the time,” says Maurice-Jones. “If you come on a Tuesday and you don’t connect with your colleagues until Thursday and you’re working on a joint project, then this can be problematic.”

How to Ensure Seamless Communication within the Team

To keep abreast of everybody’s work, it’s important to get everybody around a table in person on a regular basis. Monthly team meetings plus shorter weekly meetings bridge the gap on smaller topics with team members at the office. Some topics tend not be discussed remotely, but rather when the whole team is together during meetings. Indeed, each of the lawyers tends to be working with their business unit and team meetings are a great venue to update the rest of the team, on projects that are vertical or transversal.

Beyond team meetings, the right communication tools are essential to communication channels flowing both ways. Between telephones, email and Skype, keeping in touch on everyday tasks is not difficult. You can find a lot of information from your iPhone without having to be there and you don’t need to visit the library for legal texts either. While we take this access to information for granted nowadays, it was impossible 10 years ago and shows how much the world of in-house legal professionals has evolved.

A Trust-Based Team Organisation

To naysayers who argue that flexible working doesn’t mean equal pay, Maurice-Jones counters that his team lawyers are judged on their work output and not input. He says, “provided that everyone has very clear objectives to achieve, it doesn’t matter where or when the objectives are completed. People should only be judged on their output.”

To young general counsels or team leaders, Maurice-Jones recommends to try flexible working. “Go for it,” he says, “people find it motivating. It allows for work-life balance and it generates trust. It’s a very good thing to do. If you want to attract the best people, you need to offer flexible work options, otherwise you’ll be ruling out a lot of people and miss out on talent.”

On legal team topics, Bjarne Philip Tellman’s Building an Outstanding Legal Team: Battle-Tested Strategies from a General Counsel provides great insights for in-house legal professionals.

Handling Deadlines Within a Flexible Legal Team

Nestlé’s legal team members are expected to hit their deadlines wherever they are based. They are not dictated by how often people are in the office, but by the demands of the business. The deadline doesn’t change just because so-and-so is working from home.

When the press reports that Nestlé leads the way in terms of work flexibility, our interview with Maurice-Jones confirms that this is certainly true in the United Kingdom and Ireland even for one of the most traditional of corporate areas, the sacrosanct legal department. Who says that lawyers resist change?

Mark Maurice-Jones joined Nestlé as General Counsel and Head of Legal Services of Nestlé UK and Ireland in May 2015. Prior to joining Nestle Mark worked for 15 years at the US FMCG multinational Kimberly-Clark where he held a number of leadership positions in the EMEA Legal Department. He originally trained and practised as a competition lawyer with international law firms in London and Brussels.

In his current role, Mark heads up the Legal Department supporting all of Nestlé’s businesses in
the UK and Ireland which have a turnover of £ 2.4 billion and employ 8000 people across 20 sites. He
is passionate about developing legal teams that pro-actively shape and challenge the wider business
agenda and drive a culture of compliance and integrity.

Family & WorkObelisk In Action

This month, as part of #MyMillionHours, The Attic is sharing personal stories of talent being reactivated into the workplace.

I never imagined that I’d be given the opportunity to re-enter the workforce, to join one of the fastest-growing technology scale ups in London after an almost 7-year career break. But here I am – motivated, determined and more alive than I felt when I left to have children. Time out of work provides perspective and children even more so. I always knew that I wanted to return to my career and that the terms on which I would return would be dramatically different and in many ways challenging to employers on the receiving end. I wanted to find a role where I could manage my work and life responsibilities without feeling like I was succeeding in one and failing in the other.

To be honest, when I did decide to actively pursue such a role, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there were indeed businesses who were offering flexible working opportunities, and who were open to accepting returners and not discrediting their experience due to a break in their careers. In fact in most instances this was a complete non-issue. So I stopped making it an issue for myself and instead, focused on my experience, skills and expertise, coupled with gratitude for having spent time with my children, and having the under-valued skills that being a parent gives you, thus making me a valuable asset to any business.

Obelisk has given me the opportunity to live that truth and I have a deep sense of pride in my personal/professional story that has boosted my confidence and self-esteem. I have a stronger sense of clarity and purpose about my life; that I am a multi-faceted woman working smarter to live a life that I am already proud of.

I could only do this because I knew that returning to work needed to be different this time around on a values-basis – I knew for sure that I wanted to use my skills and be engaged in purposeful work. When the opportunity came to join Obelisk and work in a business that is focused on women in the workplace, I grabbed the opportunity with both hands – and it didn’t matter that I had zero legal experience! In fact, this was another non-issue that was refreshing and open-minded – a business that values my experience and what I have to offer even though I don’t know the industry – after all, what you don’t know, you can learn. Purpose really kicked in for me though with the talent pool that Obelisk is trying to reactivate back in to the legal industry. Even though I’m not a lawyer, I identify with these women and men who want to work differently and give 100% to achieving both their professional and personal ambitions. They, and we, shouldn’t have to make a choice between one or the other; they should and can work side-by-side.

Obelisk is currently running a campaign that is focused on bringing awareness to the available talent that legal businesses can tap into to help manage their workflow and make legal work work for them. All I want to say about the #MyMillionHours campaign is this: choosing to not explore different ways of working is choosing to stay in a comfort zone where there is no room for growth and innovation, which should get you thinking about what your business will look like in time to come – and if you’ll even have a business to look at? Not reactivating talent is choosing to participate in a wasteful economy, and that quite frankly is making the decision to not be and do better as a business, and as a human being.