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.

 

 

 

 

Family & Work

Returning to the office after a relaxing and recharging break (or just some time away from the daily grind) doesn’t have to mean you return automatically to how you were working previously. With some consideration and thought, here are some practical tips to keep the holiday vibe alive back at the office.

#1 Re-evaluate or change your routine

On holiday one of the things we often appreciate most is the change in routine. Try to avoid falling back into your old routines by being intentional – schedule walking meetings where appropriate, get up and talk to colleagues if you can rather than firing off one sentence emails, and look into techniques like the Pomodoro Technique to keep focus when carrying out mundane tasks.

Experts say that the “best way to modify habits is to replace them with a new habit”. If you regularly drink your morning coffee whilst reading emails, try instead to invite a colleague to drink your coffee together to discuss the day’s tasks.

#2 Look over your reading or podcast list for the autumn / listen to a summer playlist

Summer is full of articles about the best beach reads, or the best podcasts (read ours here) but don’t forget these recommendations will still be applicable once you’re back from your holiday. If you only ever find the time to read or listen to podcasts when you’re away from work, try changing up your commute by reading – or listening to – a novel rather than scrolling through LinkedIn or a newspaper.

Not everyone works well listening to music, but if you do, consider compiling songs (like this Spotify list of songs for lawyers) that remind you of your holiday on Spotify and listening to it when doing more admin-related tasks to lift your mood.

#3 Take your full lunch-break (and use it to be a tourist)

According to research carried out by Mastercard and Ipsos MORI in 2016, only 17% of British workers take an hour for lunch, with the average lunch-break lasting only 28 minutes.

Yet on holiday, we spend a great deal of time lingering over meals and exploring new places. Keep this vibe going by stopping work when you can to take a proper break, and use it to really explore the places surrounding your work. 

If you work in a city and enjoy culture, there are galleries, churches and public spaces which you can spend half an hour exploring and learning about the history of the areas or being inspired. There are often lunchtime concerts and talks.

If you work more remotely or from home, try finding new footpaths and exploring your immediate surrounds on foot.

#4 Get outside

On holiday, we often spend a huge amount more time outside and consequently we feel much better for it. The effects of Vitamin D on our mood as well as our health is well documented. A lack of Vitamin D can cause fatigue, tiredness and depression as well as making us more susceptible to colds and other illnesses commonly making the rounds in offices and public transport.

Keep this wellness feeling going on your return and fortify your immune system for the winter months by getting outside to absorb Vitamin D. NHS advice is to spend short periods outside between 11am and 3pm without sun-cream and with forearms, hands and lower legs exposed between March and the end of September.

#5 Practice optimism/gratitude

“When we take time to notice the things we are grateful for we raise our energy levels and become more happy and optimistic,” says Laura Walker, a mental health nurse and happiness coach. 

Take inspiration from Walker’s ‘gratitude stone’ (hers is a stone she painted with Mandela but it doesn’t need to be something so monumental) by keeping a stone or shell that you found on your holiday in your pocket or bag. 

“Whenever I see the stone I stop and consciously think of something I feel grateful for. I love this because it takes me by surprise as it often turns up on top of the washing machine or other random places”.

She is a firm believer in a daily gratitude practice; it doesn’t need to be a stone or shell, it could be a daily journal, or just taking time to notice and reflect upon the things you’re thankful for experiencing or that bring you pleasure, such as looking up and noticing the sunlight on your walk to the station or enjoying the smell of your hot coffee.

#6 Set boundaries for tech use

Our brains are not designed to be constantly in use. We need to spend time idling in order to let our brains re-charge and work more efficiently but an ever-present screen with a never-ending list of tasks to complete prevents this from happening. 

On holiday we naturally spend more time doing things away from a screen or technology, such as reading, playing sports, or sight-seeing, which gives us an added benefit that our brains have had more time to switch off more fully.

Try continuing this back in the office by actively setting realistic boundaries with technology. Try setting yourself screen time limits, reading or listening to podcasts on your commute and stepping away from your screen during breaks (see #1 above).

#7 Be more present

Experts advise that the key to a balanced life is one in accordance with your values. If you are very clear on your values and work to your strengths, you will feel more fulfilled, more engaged, more consciously in control, less stressed and more present. Presence really is the key to keeping the ‘holiday vibe’ alive. 

Try consciously reducing multi-tasking and focus on one thing at a time.

#8 Consider your holiday epiphanies and schedule your diary accordingly

Ellen Price, Founder and Coach at Think Feel Do says we make the best decisions about what needs to change or be given priority once we’ve had a holiday break. “The best gift you can give yourself to carry forward the benefits of the holiday is to schedule your diary in accordance with your values,” she says. 

“If being home for your kids bath time 3 times a week is important to you, block the time, make it non-negotiable and then make sure you turn your phone off and stay present with it”. 

“If getting promoted this year is important to you, work out what you need to do to achieve that and prioritise your diary for those things and be really present with them.”

#9 Replicate the scent of your holiday

“There is lots of buzz at the moment around the idea of ‘functional fragrances’, which are scents explicitly designed to lift or shift your mood – think aromatherapy with added neuroscience,” says Lizzie Ostrom, founder of Odette Toilette, who create experiences that invite feeling, thinking and exploring through scent. 

“But actually, any perfume or smell can do this, and it’s within our power to build that association. One easy way to do this is to choose a particular or new perfume to wear on holiday. You can then wear it when you’re back if you want to snap out of a stressful situation and feel emotionally reconnected with that languorous feeling of being on holiday.” 

You could also do the same thing by using up your holiday sun-cream once you return to the office, or by using a shower gel after you cycle or run to work which has a similar scent.

Using a new scent on holiday does come with a warning though. Lizzie says that “I once used this technique on a trip to the US and felt so grim the first two days, my perfume made me feel a bit queasy thereafter. So hold-off spraying on your travels until you feel a bit more settled and in a restful mood!”

#10 Swap your mid-afternoon fizzy drink for an ice-cream

If all of the above seems too much, this one is super easy. Instead of reaching for a can of something cold and fizzy during the mid-afternoon slump, combine getting outside with a change in routine and walk to the nearest shop to pick up your ice-cream of choice.

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.

Women in Law

Returning to work after a career break is tough. If you’re struggling to find a way back, don’t give up hope. Though it may seem like there are many obstacles in your path, there are practical steps you can take to regain your confidence and find work that works for you. That’s the message that Lisa Unwin and Deb Khan want to give women with their new book, She’s Back. Lisa  set up her consultancy of the same name as she was tired of hearing similar stories from women struggling to return to work, and decided to channel her energy to provide tactics and strategies to help them. Simultaneously straight talking and empathetic, we guarantee you will walk away from reading our interview with Lisa feeling fired up and ready to take back control of your career…

Tell us about your own experience of returning to work, and how that led you to where you are now and writing the book?

“I had what I thought was a successful career. I had started out with Arthur Andersen in 1988. As the firm collapsed in 2001 after the Enron scandal, I moved across to Deloitte who backed the firm in the UK. I was director of brand and communication there, until the wheels came off. Our nanny handed in her notice just as our children were starting school. I quite suddenly found myself struggling to work out how I was going to manage bringing up my children and managing a demanding career, and decided to take a career break. There I was a few years later wondering what happened. I had 20 years of experience behind me, and no future plan. I looked around at the school gates and saw so many people in this situation: accounts lawyers, management consultants, all trying to get back to work. That led to setting up a consultancy – there wasn’t a business model or anything to begin with but I started out by getting sponsored by organisations to do some research to prove that this was a real issue, and began looking at ways we could help them. To put a spotlight on the issue I was doing lots of writing and getting people involved in the community, and with my business partner Deb decided to write a book, which came out this year and has been well received.”

What are the most common things you hear from women who have taken a career break?

“That they are leaving because of a lack of ability to balance young children and career. Couples are making decisions about whose career will take back seat in the months and years to come, but there is no long term plan for how to get back, so when the children get older and the time comes for the person to return to work – and it is still primarily the woman – they have no idea how to get back. I can’t claim to be an expert on gender roles generally, I can only talk about what we see in the circles we work with, but professional women tend to pair with professional men, and statistically marry older men, so in general when children come along it is the woman expected to take the hit and very few see it any other way.

The other most common thing I hear when women approach me is : ‘Can you help me, I am a mum with two children, looking for flexible work?’ Being a mum doesn’t differentiate you; and you are already defining yourself as a problem by leading with what you need to work around. It’s only after you hear this that you find out they have 20 years legal experience in the City! We need to change the approach.”

So, is there an issue with the way women perceive themselves when taking a career break?

“Yes, and I say that with complete understanding of how hard it is and the difficulties that we face – we are emotional after becoming parents, and so many people live far away from family support networks nowadays, it is very hard. I say women don’t help themselves because I did and said the same things myself! I started by thinking ‘ok I need something that will work around the school run’, so I was looking on flexible working websites. But only 11% of quality professional jobs are being advertised as flexible positions – employers often will be open to flexibility in discussions but they won’t lead an advert with it, so nor should you. Tell people you were 20 years working with big four firms and you’re looking for new opportunities to apply legal skills to – that is the difference. You are 5 times more likely to find work through introductions in your network than through recruiters, but they need to have something to tell that person other than ‘she needs to work flexibly!’

We often don’t acknowledge how vulnerable and lacking confidence we can become once we have children. We can start to remember differently how our work lives went and think we only got there by luck. You starting losing touch with that driven, confident side of you, because as a mum you don’t get told you’re doing a good job – you can do everything right but you will never know because you don’t have a performance review as a parent!”

Are there other things at play when it comes to a loss of confidence in your career?

“Ageism is a big thing, and again we have to fight against external and internalised attitudes. Employers and individuals need to stop seeing post-40 years as being past peak or entering final stages of our career – we still have 20 years of work ahead of us! I have done so much more in my 40s and 50s  professionally and personally than I ever did – or indeed ever could have – in my 20s and 30s, so don’t buy into the narrative that it is too late.”

What practical steps do you talk about in the book to help people prepare for and come back from a career break?

“First, everything is so much easier if you have kept in touch with your industry and colleagues  – if you haven’t it is much easier now to seek them out and reach out again – gone are the days of the gatekeeper PA and trying to book an appointment to meet senior people. Being on LinkedIn is essential as that is where all jobs and connections are. People are really willing to offer advice and take time to meet you if you reach out to them, especially those that know what you are good at. You need to have those conversations to bring the other side of you back out.

Take part as much as you can while you are out of the workplace – networking events, online webinars, parent meetings, whatever will put you in touch with the right people – it’s all in your hands to open the door and get out there.

Don’t feel it is insurmountable, remember that there are other ways to work and find paid employment – taking on freelance projects or by joining organisations like Obelisk – every little bit helps to add to your CV, keep your skills up to date, and keep in touch with peers. All this will make it easier to step up when you are ready.

And don’t put your head in the sand when it comes to finances, plan for your financial future!”

A big concern! How do you encourage women to think long term about their career and financial position?

“Again, it’s up to us. We can’t just leave it to legislation and employers – only 2% men took up shared parental leave last year, we still have a culture where men fear their career will be harmed if they do, and that will take a long time to change.

Women need to view work like a game of chess, and play the long game. We often look at cost of childcare for the first year or so and decide it is not worth it, but we should be thinking about what happens in 8 to ten years’ time. If you decide to step back completely, after 5 years childcare costs go down but your market value has gone down even more. Short term sacrifices are worthwhile if you want to continue your career so take the initial financial hit if you can, take a part time role, pass up a project or promotion if it helps you keep your foot in the door.”

One thing that we commonly see women returning to work find difficult is how to present themselves on their CV. What advice would you give?

“It’s important to see your CV or LinkedIn profile as a marketing tool. Employers spend on average just 8 SECONDS scanning a CV for suitability so your opening paragraph must be compelling – again don’t lead with what you want, lead with what you have to offer. Another thing people don’t often realise is that recruiters use software to scan for keywords in CVs first, so make sure you are hitting all the points from the job description.

When it comes to addresses your career break, don’t jump through hoops trying to justify it with irrelevant information about being part of the PTA and so on, as it comes across defensive. Appear confident about it! Just write ‘Planned Career Break’ and the length of time. Keep the most relevant information at the top with an experience or skills summary – don’t bury the good stuff on page 2, even if it did all happen 20 years ago. Finally if you have had lots of similar part time or short contract roles list them together and summarise details in one paragraph rather than listing bullets for each to keep things more concise.”

How should lawyers seek to update their skills to become more employable in technologically fast changing market?

“As a lawyer, you will know plenty of other lawyers, so talk to them to find out what you don’t know and what gaps you need to fill. It’s so much easier now than it used to be to keep up with technology and learn independently. There are many free resources on the internet, so search for YouTube tutorials and online courses. Most technology being used today is intuitive and designed to be user friendly, so it is often a case of simply using and learning as you go – just take the time to do it. Get to grips with social media management tools such as Hootsuite to make it easier to post regularly to market yourself.”

Lisa also agrees that being part of platforms like Obelisk Support is beneficial as they provide help keeping skills up to date, such as our recent LexisPSL introductory webinar, and regular events focusing on current developments in the industry.

Final thoughts

The bottom line as Lisa states is, no one will do it for you. There is support out and information there if you reach out and look for it. Your career and success before you took a break came about because of you and the work you put in – you are still the key to your own success.

Lisa and Deb don’t just tell you all the things you need to hear in She’s Back – the book also contains useful exercises that you can carry out to help you on your way. Lisa recommends that you find a friend to do them with you, so you can challenge one another and stay motivated. She’s Back is shortlisted for CMI’s Management Book of the Year 2019 and can be purchased on Amazon. You can find out more about their work on www.shesback.co.uk

Making Work, Work

We already know the modern work paradigm is shifting; sitting at a desk in an office from 9 to 5 is no longer the default, and the rise of flexible working is gaining more attention. A recent YouGov survey has revealed that only 6% of working Britons now put in those hours. Instead, 73% work either part-time or with some form of flexible working arrangement (Deloitte and Timewise study).

Flexible working is no longer just a special condition for some people in work. Essentially it’s a way of working that suits the needs of employees of all kinds. This could mean starting and leaving the office earlier or working from home a few days a week. But as Anna Whitehouse of Mother Pukka Flex Appeal campaign explained: “Flexible working doesn’t mean working less or slacking off, it means finding hours that suit your life and how you best work. And it’s not just an issue for parents, either – it’s one of the few issues that both the unionists of the TUC and the employers at the CBI agree on: flexible working is better for staff, and it’s better for profits.”

The benefits are indeed tangible and wide ranging. Vodafone conducted a global survey about flexible working back in 2016, revealing that companies who had implemented agile strategies:

  • Increased company profits (according to 61% of respondents);
  • Improved productivity (83%);
  • Positively impacted company reputation (58%); and
  • Improved staff morale (76%).

Flexi-work also has a knock-on effect on recruitment. As Clare Butler, recruitment expert and Global Managing Director of Lawrence Simmons Recruitment, revealed to Catherine Gleave in our recent piece on “The Future’s Flexi”, employers need to be open-minded about their approach to flexible working going forward because it can make all the difference when it comes to talent acquisition, with many contracts won and lost over this very issue. There is a push towards respecting the work-life balance across the legal profession and if companies push back, they risk losing out on some serious talent. This is especially true regarding working parents and millennials for whom workplace culture, of which this plays a part, is often more important than traditional status indicators, like salary.

Rights to Flexible Working

Companies may not actively offer it as part of recruitment, but after six months in a job, every employee in the UK has the right to request flexible working. While companies aren’t obliged to acquiesce to a request, they are obliged to consider it “in a reasonable manner”. Are you thinking of pitching the case for flexi working to your boss or trying negotiate (or even lay the groundwork for the future) on accepting a new position? Read the LexisNexis piece on the Flex Appeal and #BeBoldforChange here. It’s got the answers to two of the most common – and increasingly outdated – objections: “If we did it for you, we’d have to do it for everyone!” and “You’ll be less productive.”

Even though some companies might dig in their heels, relying on the predictable old arguments for not implementing agile working policies, flexible working is on the rise – both in the country, and in the legal profession, marking a significant turning point for the industry in 2019. 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. As Catherine Gleave notes: “Not only do women feel more empowered to return to the workplace on their own terms, the rising popularity of flexible working means that a varied work structure is the standard rather than a special requirement, thus preventing any bias against candidates who require a more flexible work schedule.”

Working Smarter

In addition to injecting even more talent into the marketplace, flexible working is just one of the ways the modern legal workforce can work smarter, rather than harder. And it’s being facilitated largely 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. But 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.

There’s no more putting it off: the legal market is evolving and the traditional working model is going to diminish. As the market changes, different, more agile working models are on the rise, from portfolio careers to flexible working. These models can benefit both employee and employer, as companies are beginning to realise and act upon, and as seen in the continued success of organisations such as Obelisk Support, which recently joined the FT Future 100 UK list as a diversity leader – the only legal company to do so.

But for those considering taking a flexible approach to work, there are undoubtedly challenges, from the risk of succumbing to procrastination to figuring out how to engender trust at work and stay on top of client care. But at its core there are certain things to do in the run up to taking the leap:

  • Be realistic about what you can do on a flexible schedule and take the time to figure out how and where.
  • Find a forward-looking company with a positive work culture.
  • Research the right tools and technology to facilitate working efficiently out of the office.
  • Discuss it with your team, both full-time in-house and other flexible workers, to make sure there’s buy-in and understanding.
  • Stay flexible and carry out reviews of your arrangement. Be prepared to adjust and change as you go.

For more practical, easy-to-implement solutions and suggestions, read the LexisNexis article on the Future of Law – “Flexible Working for Lawyers: How Far Can You Flex?

Making Work, Work

We are delighted to have Louisa Van Eeden of Lexis Nexis UK join us as a guest blogger on The Attic. Her first post takes a look at how millennials are shaping the future of the legal industry.

Millennials. They’re the generation that everybody loves to blame for, well, pretty much anything. They are branded as “snowflakes”, and written off as a problem that either needs to be overcome, or ignored until they ‘grow up’ and become more like the older generations. But who are they really, and what impact are they having on the legal industry?

Much like Generation X back in the 1990s, the term millennial is often used in the media to refer to anything related to a youth culture that other generations generally don’t understand that well. Unlike Generation X, the Millennial Generation was typically born between the early 1980s and the late 1990s, and grew up in a dramatically different landscape to their forebears. The world has changed: the internet dominates our lives, job security and home ownership are not a certainty; the future of the planet is at risk through climate change; and it’s becoming rapidly apparent that continuing with a business as usual attitude, just because that’s the way it’s always been, is untenable.

Consequently, millennials simply aren’t as compelled by traditional practices as previous generations, both in life and work. They are who they are. Where previous high achievers would chase salary, millennials now typically look for a company that aligns with their values. For the millennial, culture reigns supreme. In fact, a study recently conducted by Fidelity showed that millennials are willing to give up (up to) £7,600 in salary every year for a job that gave them a better environment and culture.

The Millennial Takeover

Considering that millennials now form the backbone of staff and client bases, making up to 35% of our current workforce, with that set to increase to 50% of the workforce by 2020, this is not a demographic to underestimate. Millennials are not just a vague notion of youth culture, they are real people progressing into management positions, and are shaping the technological and cultural landscape of every industry, including the law.

The “The Millennial Takeover”, identifies three key areas where the legal industry is seeing the impact of millennials:

#1 Talent Acquisition

This is a key battleground for law firms and one which millennials are well-positioned to approach and understand, especially because, as the Financial Times continues to report, firms are struggling to source and retain talent in today’s rapidly changing marketplace. Attracting the best and brightest young talent is more important than ever before, and harder than ever before, with this generation taking a markedly different approach to their careers. Millennials are key to helping law firms communicate their vision of the future, enabling firms to modernise with an eye to the demands of new talent and driving a competitive edge.

#2 The Ability to Drive the Profession Forward

Law firms are already changing with the millennial worker in mind. As the Law Journal Newsletter reports: “A number of firms have moved, remodelled or completely overhauled their physical workplaces with millennials in mind, favouring common areas, for example, over large corner offices.” But it’s not just physical changes, but more fundamental ones as well. As one of the co-founders of the Legal A-Team asserts, the partnership model – one of the traditional prestige markers in law firms – is no longer the aim: “Millennials want what they want and they want it now. The patience factor is not one of their fortes — they’re not going to stand around for 12 years.” In order to retain and attract millennial talent (and not lose them to agile, tech-forward start-ups), law firms will need to significantly adapt their culture and perhaps even their company structure.

#3 A Creative Approach to Business Practices

Law firms and lawyers need to think more creatively about their working practices in light of the rise of consumerism in today’s legal market. Client power is increasingly dominant, with billing and efficiency becoming ever more important. New and agile practices, from social media to technology, are areas where millennials excel. They also prefer to work collaboratively rather than as a silo, which may well serve firms well moving forwards. Being open to change and engaging in a dialogue with junior members of the team may be beneficial here, in order to ensure that the firm remains stimulated and doesn’t fall behind.

Millennials and Legal Tech

While all three areas are important to understand, technology is the one that underpins them all. The agile working practices and lateral knowledge-sharing solutions favoured by millennial legal professionals and legal start-ups are all enabled by technology. Indeed, there are already reports that legal tools are being used with increasing regularity. A recent LexisNexis In-house Insights report, ‘Legal Technology – Looking Past the Hype’ found that 85% of in-house legal teams surveyed have introduced multiple technology types and almost three quarters (73%) of respondents who have already introduced legal technology tools are making plans to expand their implementation. It is very likely that the next generation of lawyers will practise law in very different ways.

As Head of the Global Cyber Security Practice at Herbert Smith Freehills Andrew Moir suggests, lawyers have an obligation to stay up to date with legal developments and new technologies: ‘There have always been areas where an understanding of both the law and technology is helpful, such as patents, IT contractual disputes or cyber security. But now we’re increasingly being instructed on the legal aspects of cutting edge technology such as blockchain, electronic signatures, artificial intelligence, and data analytics, to name a few. Before we can advise on these sorts of developments, we really need as lawyers to understand the technology behind them.’

The Flexible Generation

Technology is undoubtedly changing the legal profession, and it’s likely that the next generation of lawyers will practise law in very different ways. Indeed, there is already a growing section of the workplace – populated by those who have different life demands and values – who no longer fit the traditional working model. This has led to an increase in portfolio careers as well as flexible working models designed to benefit both employee and employer. This can be seen in the continued success of organisations such as Obelisk Support, which recently joined the FT Future 100 UK list as a diversity leader – the only legal company to do so.

This trend is likely to continue to increase and evolve as more millennials dominate the workforce, bringing with them their approach to work-life balance, their use of technology as a natural enabler, the importance they place on purposeful business (one which looks beyond the profit line), their desire for flexibility, and their alternative definitions of success.

We are entering an exciting era for the legal industry, one in which we wait in watchful anticipation to see who will accept and accelerate this new approach to working culture, and what impact it will have across the legal profession and wider society.

For more insights on how young lawyers are best positioning themselves to weather the upcoming changes, check out our post on “The Legal Profession for Millennials”. 

Making Work, Work

Working as a freelance lawyer means continually being on the lookout for new clients and new projects, and this means that you are likely to be frequently asked to interview for a job or gig. At Obelisk Support, we provide preparation tips for our legal consultants before they head to client interviews and decided to share the most common questions below. Some of these meetings or phone and Skype calls can be more formal than others, so it’s often more difficult to navigate expectations and put yourself and your experience across in the way you want to. With the help of some video tutorials from career experts, here are our top interview tips to help you bag your dream role.

Common Curveball Questions

No matter how many interviews we experience, there are always those dreaded questions that leave us stumped for an authentic and effective response. These are some of the most common curveballs you are likely to face, and ways to tackle them:

  • “Tell me about yourself…”

This question is so open-ended, it’s hard to know what interviewers are looking for. Of course, you should summarise your experience and achievements, but the interviewer doesn’t want to hear just a rundown of your CV, which they will have in front of them. You need to tell the story of your career – what has led you on your chosen career path and what brings you to the interview today. They want to get a sense of the kind of person you are and how you would fit into the organisation. If you come across as insincere, inauthentic and too scripted here, that will work against you. That said, you should also avoid going into too much detail about your personal life.

Career strategist Linda Raynier tells us more in her video:

  • “How did you handle a difficult situation?” (also phrased as ‘how did you meet/overcome a challenge?’ or similar)

Generally speaking, every behavioural question like this asked in an interview should be answered with an example from previous experience or specific reasoning illustrating the approach you take.

But how do you choose the right example and explain in a way that presents you at your best? Again, your storytelling skills come into play. You need to tell a tale of resilience, of listening, adapting and managing to produce a successful outcome, with you at the centre of it all.

For the best answer, use the STAR technique (Situation, Task, Action, Result) as demonstrated here:

  • “What is your greatest weakness?”

This question aims to decipher how much self awareness you have, and give an indication of how you handle constructive criticism.

In spite of what you may have heard, recruitment experts advise against taking a known strength and making it sound like a weakness!

The Scharff Tank advises the best way to approach this question is to make it specific to the job you are applying for. For example, you might have no industry experience as you are looking to branch out into a different area, but you can use the opportunity to remind the interviewer of the different transferable skills and knowledge you can bring to the table. Or, identify an area you would like to improve that is connected to the role (but is not a critical aspect of it).

  • “Do you have an questions for us?”

Why does an interviewer ask this? It’s not just to round off the interview. It’s a chance to cement your genuine interest in the job in the interviewer’s mind, and an opportunity for you to gain real personal insight into the company and role — beyond the job description and website. Candidates who don’t have any questions can leave the interviewer puzzled. Does the candidate have enough curiosity or self-initiative to succeed in this position? If the candidate finds herself/himself in a situation where they’re missing information, will they proactively ask for it?

You should always prepare questions for the interviewer, showing that you’ve done your homework and researched not only the position but the company culture or people on the team. Of course, you could stick to the safe answer of asking about next steps in process, but here are some suggestions from Work It Daily to help you find out if the job is really the right fit for you:

– ‘How did you come to work here?’

– ‘What do you like most about working here?’

– ‘How is performance measured within the company?’ (variation: ‘How do you measure success in this job?’)

– ‘Anything you wish I had mentioned about my skills that would make me a better fit for the role?’

– ‘How do you work with your colleagues?’

Remember to ask open-ended questions and not questions with yes/no answers.

Key Approaches in a Legal Interview

Most legal interviews are a mix of competency and technical questions, reaching into your commercial and business knowledge relevant to the company and industry.

#1 Do Your Homework

It’s important to show you are always thinking and updating your knowledge, particularly if you have been out of the industry for a career break. So. As well as researching the company, you will want to spend a good amount of time reading trade press and getting up to speed with current goings on in that particular area of work. Don’t forget to have a good read-through of your CV too and prepare for specific questions that might be asked about particular areas of experience you have listed!

Interviewers like to see that candidates have prepared diligently in advance, beyond the official website of the company. That is simply not enough.

  • Go on social media, research the company culture and members of the legal team to get a feel for who they are.
  • Use company review websites such as GlassDoor to find internal feedback by current employees.
  • Make use of any contacts connected with the company to help you prepare.

#2 Be Yourself

Being knowledgeable and professional is vital but they don’t want a robot either, so don’t be shy about putting your personality on show. Be ready to discuss your hobbies and activities outside of work to build a more complete picture of what motivates and inspires you.

#3 Be Confident

Another characteristic that legal recruiters look for is assertiveness and the ability to own your career and achievements, so make sure you claim your experience when talking. Say ‘I did this’ – don’t speak with passive voice or say ‘we’ (except when demonstrating your ability to work in a team of course!). Also, look your interviewers in the eye during conversation and don’t get distracted by mobile phones or outside people. This is your time to shine, make the best use of it.

For more, here is some useful guidance from Herbert Smith Freehills for interviewing for an international city law firm training contract:

Confidence, Presentation and Body Language

If you have the ability but find your belief and confidence can let you down, there are ways to build yourself up before an interview.

First, there’s no such thing as over preparing – going in knowing you have worked to research the company, prepare stories and answers for as many possible question as you can helps build confidence.

Nerves can lead to rambling and mind blanks, so be sure to concentrate on taking a breath before questions and try not to rush towards the main point or the end of your sentence. Bear in mind the interviewer will give you space to speak and you are not going to be interrupted or spoken over, so take your time.

Remember that they invited you to the interview. They will have seen something in you already.  They want to know more about you, and aren’t trying to catch you out. The interviewer wants you to do well as they want to find a good candidate– no one wants a bad interview!

Smart, clean clothing for presentation go without saying, but comfort is also key. Comfortable dressing makes for better posture and makes you feel more confident. Many people have a go to dress or suit for presentation or big meetings, so stick with the clothing you feel at your best in and is connected with other successful moments in your life.

Of course, it’s not just about what you wear. Your body language plays a big part in making an impression. Remember to sit up, use your hands while speaking, make eye contact, and smile and nod gently when being spoken to.

See more below:

Phone Interview Tips

The phone interview is a commonplace occurrence for freelance lawyers, particularly if the majority of your work is remote. This lends a particular challenge to the interview as you do not have the benefit of observing body language and facial expressions to easily gauge tone and reaction. For starters, read these tips on how to interview on the phone.

Beyond that, try not to let that worry you, just concentrate on the questions being asked and answer them as you would in person.

As you would in person, take your time. Don’t feel you have to fill every moment of silence – it’s better to listen right through to the end of the questions and take a couple of seconds to gather your thoughts.

Keep answers clear and to the point – the interviewer will ask you for more details if required.

Finally, make sure you take the call in a place with no distractions – close down everything on your computer except for what you need for the interview, and turn off all notifications/call waiting functions. Don’t forget to thank the interviewer for their time and follow up with an email immediately afterwards.

Good luck in your next interview. You can do it!

 

 

Making Work, Work

If you work from home permanently or on a frequent basis, you’ll recognise some of the negative feelings that can creep up on you: the sense of isolation and feeling detached from the office, insecurity about your position with a company or with clients from the lack of face to face contact, and a lack of boundaries between work and home life. Many of our legal consultants at Obelisk Support work from home and may be familiar with these thoughts. It is so important to break this cycle and step out of your bubble. With personal experience, here are my tips for protecting your mental health when working from home.

Create a Comfortable and Protected Workspace

A home office is a necessity. Even if you don’t have space for a room to yourself, making a dedicated and undisturbed work zone is so important – for example, my workspace is one half of the dining room table. I can close the doors for quiet time and for calls and interviews, and I have easy-to-move storage trays for paperwork when the entire table is needed for dinners, my daughter’s homework or various arts and craft projects. Plus if you have regular video calls you’re not scrambling to find a tidy, professional looking space to beam in from each time…

That aside, if you’re finding it hard to concentrate or get motivated, the advantage of working from home is that you can move around freely, without waiting for a meeting room or comfortable chair to become available! Sometimes your comfortable sofa is a better place to jot down ideas for a new project, or you can grab the opportunity for some fresh air outside while on a call.

Declutter Your Home Environment

Though I wouldn’t claim to be a naturally tidy person, since working from home I have become acutely aware of how clutter affects my mental health and concentration. This can be even more difficult to manage when you share your living space with others, particularly with children or if you live with someone who is a natural hoarder.

There are some great tips for sorting your home working space here, but if you find that clutter elsewhere in the home is affecting your mood or encroaching on your space, discuss having a good clear out of your whole living environment. Many people swear by Marie Kondo’s method, and though you might find some of the ideas extreme, it’s a good starting point for better ways to organise your living space.

Use Separate Devices for Work and Leisure Screen Time

Wherever possible, keep your work-related digital communications and documents on dedicated work devices, so they are not popping up in notifications or are sat staring at you on your desktop when you are using those devices during your leisure time. Tracking cookies could also affect your search or social media history with mixed use devices, resulting in ‘tainted’ results. It might seem like unnecessary hassle, but having a dedicated work mobile and personal mobile will help you maintain the boundaries between work and leisure, which so often get blurred when working from home. Plus, it is also easier to keep track of usage for tax purposes if you are self employed – which will also help keep the stress levels down!

Take at Least One Screen-Free Break Each Day

This is important in any work environment, but especially so at home where the temptation of TV and streaming services are at your fingertips. Step away from the computer and do something that requires a different type of concentration. A bit of light tidying in the home, a walk or a run, even simply going for a drive requires a change in thought process and engages different reactions allowing your other faculties to recharge. Anything that gets you up and stretching and out of the house is preferable.

Some fitness devices like FitBit activity trackers remind you to get up every hour and walk at least 250 steps, motivating you to be active during long periods of physical inactivity.

Connect Frequently With Your Communities

We are a social species, and even those of us who are comfortable in our own company need to connect with other people from time to time. Working from home can feel like you are isolated from the core workplace community. Try to ensure that your communication with colleagues/clients and associates is not always urgent and task-focused – sharing ideas, interesting relevant articles you’ve come across helps keeps sense of community and shared inspiration.

For a confidence boost, try getting involved with local community organisations that interest you, to maintain a sense of connection outside of the home. If you are finding that working at home is really taking its toll, talk to friends and family about your feelings. This may then give you the courage to share your feelings with work associates or other support networks who can offer practical help and understanding.

Use Shared Workspaces

A change is as good as a rest, so they say. If you are experiencing a creeping sense of cabin fever, it may be time to make regular use of shared workspaces in your local area for a change of environment. Workspaces are better than working from a coffee shop as they are set up with the facilities and quiet room you need to concentrate and be productive. Public libraries can also offer good working environments. Regarding coffee houses, I am also reluctant to spend much time working in them as it is important to not let places of leisure and relaxation become places of work. If you don’t have a suitable workspace nearby, perhaps enquire with people you know about any spare space they might know or be in possession of.

Remember the Benefits of Working from Home

It’s all too easy to fall out of love with working from home when we slip into bad habits, but try to remember the opportunities and freedoms it gives you. Here are just some of the advantages to remind you why you are one of lucky ones:

  • You’re in charge – you are free to use your home as you wish, there’s no need to ask for permission or to check schedules for meeting rooms
  • You have no commute – you can work that little bit longer and still be present for bedtimes and homework
  • You create a schedule to suit you – as you get into a rhythm you can choose the hours and day structure that suits your energy and peak productivity times.
  • You have access to enjoyable home projects – on your break, you can spend a little time on those other projects you can’t take into the office – that painting you want to finish, the DIY, gardening or craft project that’s been on the to do list for months, there is more you can achieve when work and home are in the same place. Just try to keep them separate and distinct.

Support Networks for Home Workers

If you feel you need additional support and someone to talk to while working from home, online support groups can be a lifeline. Here are just a few examples of organisations you can contact and connect with, digitally and in person:

  • Meetup.com is a place where you can find local and global support groups and events for people working from home.
  • Aoife Lee Parent Support (Ireland) runs corporate talks for working parents.
  • The Samaritans are not just there for people in deep crisis – they campaign for better mental health in society including in the workplace and are always available on 116 123 to listen when you need to talk it out, whatever the circumstance.
  • Facebook features an amazing number of professional-minded groups, some with regional features. Most are closed groups that require admin approval and feature moderated discussions.
  • LinkedIn is another great place to look for professional groups. Some require admin approval and proof on your LinkedIn profile that your area of expertise or professional history are relevant to the group.

However good these networks and groups are, remember to get out of your house and have a fulfilling social life. What’s the point of working otherwise?

 

 

 

 

Matthew Taylor, RSA
Making Work, Work

At The Attic, we recently caught up with Matthew Taylor, director of the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) to talk about innovation and the future of the workplace. This topic is particularly timely as the government just responded to Matthew Taylor’s Good Work: Review of Modern Working Practices and published four consultation documents. At a time when the legal profession is increasingly turning to AI and automation, we discuss the meaning of innovation and how this will impact how we work.

What is the role of innovation in society and what should it be?

Innovation is about facing new challenges – whether they come from technology, climate or politics – and providing new solutions, but we should also continue to support human progress. We’ll always meet new challenges and we’ll always want to achieve more in life, but innovation should aim to bring a step forward for humanity.

The RSA has been involved with innovation for 260 years. This has involved, amongst others, different ways of working. There was no such thing as the welfare state when the RSA was founded in 1754. Ultimately, we are about ideas and actions behind social progress. As a progressive organisation, we continue to push progress. We do it via three key themes that we believe have the most impact for people: Creative Learning and Development, Public Services & Communities and Economy, Enterprise and Manufacturing.

We also have a community of 29,000 fellows, who support us with their donations, forming networks and taking initiatives that the RSA support.

What is the best innovation you have seen recently?

The most innovative work that I’ve seen recently is not a product, it’s understanding an issue in a different way. This is the RSA’s work on economic insecurity. Economic security can be a powerful and effective way of understanding social problems.

What is the worst innovation you have seen recently?

In terms of worse innovations, a lots of things are pretty awful, such as products that damage the environment without doing much. About 10 years ago, I was particularly dismayed when I entered in an electronic shop and saw a digital photo frame. This is a photo frame that you have to charge and all it does is showing a rolling slideshow in people’s homes. To me, that just adds to the amount of junk in the world. More recently in 2017, I learned about a platform for retail workers that would portray shop workers as self-employed. It’s a terrible idea.

Talking about innovation and work, how did you see the future of the gig economy and of professions in general?

I am happy with the idea of the gig economy but we need a level playing field. The gig economy should not be about the capacity to avoid paying taxes. It should be about making sure that innovation and productivity get rewarded and to get to that stage, we need new policies. How can we have a sustainable fiscal and regulatory framework so that people can work? That’s an interesting question. The government commissioned a report on modern working practices in 2017 and some of my report touches on the gig economy.

Regarding the future of professions, it is pretty clear that they won’t disappear. However, the nature of professions will change because of artificial intelligence and robotics. It will be less about having and transferring knowledge, because machines are better at this than we are, and more about human creativity and communication. To which extent professions are altered remains to be seen. In The Age of Automation: Artificial Intelligence, Robotics and Low-Skilled Work, the RSA discusses how robotics and AI could lead to a better way to work with the implementation of certain safeguards.

In your opinion, how will innovation drive productivity improvements?

Innovation should change productivity improvement, but companies that genuinely innovate should drive the wave of change and not, for instance, companies that bend the rules. Take Uber. Uber needs to work in a framework that’s in line with global policy goals and that treats people fairly.

Can innovation be beneficial to the low-skilled workers and how?

Yes, I’ve got a good recent example. Tesco has a new app that will allow staff to work wherever they want to work and that’s a great example of good innovation that enables people. Along those lines, I’m particularly interested in ‘worker tech,’ digital tools that enable the self-employed to support each other via platforms. It is my belief that worker tech will give these people a voice and help them organise themselves so they can get together, make demands together and communicate together.

What resources/programmes does the RSA offer to the professional community?

We are a professional community, with our 29,000 fellows, but we also bring inspiration, ideas and routes for engagement to them. We work hard to make it feel like the fellowship is not a private members club, but a group of people interested in working together and making the world a better place.

 

Making Work, Work

With the billable hour and a culture that is still dominated by presenteeism, how can you progress in your legal career and succeed as a part time lawyer?

It’s a question that should be more and more urgently posed, as legal profession locks out so much talent due to incapability with changing lifestyles and family commitments. Far too many lawyers are still choosing to leave law altogether as there appears to be little alternative to the long hours demanded by firms. Dana Denis-Smith created the model of Obelisk Support in 2010 because she was staggered at the number of women leaving the profession when they started a family and how little employers did to stop them. In an interview on part time work in the Law Gazette, she identified that there is often a negative correlation between commitment and working part-time, though that is something not unique to law firms.

Thanks to those who are pushing for change in legal industry work culture, there are in-roads being made and it is possible to continue to build your experience and reputation as an ambitious legal professional on a part time basis. Portfolio careers, shared roles and reduced hours are becoming more common in the industry, and it is perfectly possible to succeed as a part time lawyer. Here’s how to approach it…

#1. Work Out a Mutually Beneficial Work Pattern

It is important to work out with your employers a part-time structure that works around both of your needs. You will need to have this conversation very early on in the process to get to a decision that best for both of you. For example, do you need to have shorter days, or would a shorter working week suit better? What days of the week will you be in office? Will you be doing the same hour slots every day or will you need to change between morning/afternoon hours on certain days? Take a look at your typically busiest contact times in the office and incorporate this into your new working pattern.

#2. Realise Your Value a Part-Time Lawyer

If you feel the need to apologise for your working hours, stop that immediately! Having confidence in the value of the hours you put in is key to making part-time work, work. Remember the amount of hours you work has been mutually agreed–they want to keep your talent, you want to keep progressing in your career while keeping balance in your life. The quality of work and character that you bring to your clients is what matters. Own your part-time lawyer career status and remind yourself of the reasons why you took the decision in the first place.

#3. Manage Expectations and Set Boundaries

One of the regular problems that may occur during the course of working part-time as a lawyer is the reluctance to speak up and say that you simply don’t have time for more work. As a part-time worker, you may feel because you work ‘less’ than a full-time colleague, it is your responsibility to pick up any extra tasks that need to be covered. It is better to be firm about the hours you work and say you simply won’t have time to do it within them, rather than over-promise and leave everyone scrambling to deal with the problem.

#4. Communicate Consistently

In the Law Gazette interview, Denis-Smith says the key to part time work ‘is to be very communicative, so those you work with know how you work and when you work and buy into that pattern.’ You will need to get used to reminding people of your hours and schedule, and setting out-of-office emails and voicemails, so people are not expecting to hear from you when you are not in the office.

#5. Increase your Efficiency

Having fewer hours to accomplish what you need to do makes you realise just how precious your time is, and can present great opportunities to overhaul the way you work. Making use of organisation apps and tools, eliminating unnecessary meetings, and approaching your work in a different way can make you a much more effective lawyer and can actually help propel you forward in your career. It is the perfect opportunity to get ahead of the curve with new developments and trends in legal technology!

Being a successful part-time lawyer, much like being a full-time lawyer, will not be a walk in the park and will come with its own challenges. But as more firms and legal consultancies offer more flexible working options to meet the demands of their employees, it will no longer be a straight choice between your career progression or a balanced life. Both can co-exist as long as the will to retain and nurture legal talent remains on both sides.