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.

 

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.

Making Work, Work

The legal profession is less than a trailblazer in terms of flexible working practices. It is of course not the only guilty party. Other industries that have been criticised or determined poor for flexibility include aerospace (in a survey on women’s perception of openness to flexibility) and perhaps more surprisingly, the arts sector.

Is law filled with more obstinate traditionalists with no desire to change and adapt? In our experience, this is highly doubtful. However, the complete picture is somewhat more complex. There are a number of persisting practices preventing the legal industry adapting successfully to flexible working.

#1 Telling, Not Showing

When firms only pay lip service to flexible working, instead of incorporating it as the norm of the working culture, people will be reluctant to take it up. There is a reluctance to take up flexible working when offered as a specific policy, to be seen as an exception or seeking special treatment – a stigma still exists. Bridging the gap between policy and practice means implementing official flexible working guidelines as well as making the company culture more flexible overall.

  • Easy Fix: Are your top management or top workers taking up flexible working? Once they do, others will follow.

There is also the Catch-22 scenario of lack of role models and untapped talent means no example for workers coming through. This unfortunately means that more firms are likely to sit on the fence when it comes to offering flexible working options, believing that the demand is not their or that the practice simply doesn’t work in the legal profession.

This does not mean the demand is not there, in fact majority of workers have been found across industry to prioritise flexible working when considering the desirability of a company or position. In addition, the practice of flexible and remote work within law has proven to not only work well, but provide more efficiency and productivity for clients and consultants alike.

  • Easy Fix: Offer a set number of days per quarter for flexible working, at the lawyer’s discretion.

Global health care company Roche has a unique flexible work program that offers employees 12 days of remote work per quarter (48 days/year). If an employee needs to stay home to be with kids or sick parents or to focus on a specific project, the company trusts that they will still get their work done.

#2 Relying on Outdated Technologies

The legal industry has been slow to embrace new tech-led agile infrastructure, but flexible and remote working practices need the right tools to be successful – cloud-based technology, online collaboration tools and online security protocols. If your law firm is still living in the golden age of hard-drive doc storage, physical team meetings or fixed working hours, it’s time to open up.

Technology plays a vital role and it is often simply the case that some industries have not focused on investment in technology capabilities to allow the easy, secure provision of flexible working practices. It’s not just an issue for lawyers however: clients in more technology-advanced industries will naturally be looking for more innovation and flexibility from law firms and anyone providing legal services to them. Law’s lack of investment in new technology is at its root an institutional problem – from the traditions of the courtroom to the dominance of firms and billable hours – so it’s not going to change overnight, progress will need to be driven.

Easy Fix:

#3 Being Afraid to Lose Control

Which leads us to this next point. Investing in technology and flexible work in the legal industry may mean a complete change in the way that legal services are provided. Larger, traditional law firms will have to adapt immensely in order to meet flexibility demands from lawyers and clients.

While other industries that have been more exposed to non-traditional ways of working see the trend as an opportunity to be more agile and adaptable, the legal industry sees only a loss of control – of data, of lawyers who are spending less time in the office, and of their client relationships as they become more focused on the individual legal professional rather than the reputation of the firm.

There is also the fear of making the job ‘easier’ somehow devaluing the expertise required in the profession, instead of giving legal talent more time to concentrate on important aspects of the role such as court appearances and counsel. Georgetown Law’s Centre for the Study of the Legal Profession offers some insights into the need for the industry to let go of the old models and adapt to a changing market.

  • Easy Fix: Empower lawyers by entrusting them with projects and deadlines at their own pace.

#4 Rewarding Long Desk Hours

It’s often said we live in a world that rewards extroversion; people more visible generally deemed more contribution, while those who work away quietly and aren’t drawing attention to themselves are sometimes overlooked. Linked to this, long desk hours in the office is rewarded in a similar way, particularly in law, where the more time we are seen to be at our desks, the more dedicated and hard-working we are presumed to be. However, studies have clearly shown that overwork leads to more mistakes and reduced productivity.

The Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss has previously spoken out against presenteeism, identifying it as the key reason for a lack of gender equality in the profession. A TUC study in 2013 found that legal professionals are the most likely workers to do unpaid overtime. More generally, presenteeism is a damaging aspect of working culture across the board – badly managed workloads, health issues resulting from reluctance to take sick days, mistakes arising from fatigue and overwork, the list goes on.

  • Easy Fix: Reward productive lawyers and encourage them to get a life.

#5 Sticking to Full-Time Positions

Most big law firms stick to the traditional model of full-time on-site lawyer careers, regardless of your personal circumstances. While that may have the norm a decade ago, the rules of the game are changing. People want a better work-life balance or simply put, they want a life. Offering only traditional legal jobs cuts from the talent pool all the expert lawyers who are also entrepreneurs, who care for a family or who cannot commute to the office every day.

To prevent brain-drain and the loss of a highly skilled workforce that demands flexible working, here are two ideas that are easy to implement.

  • Easy  Fix: Encourage job sharing part-remote working.

A job-share team is formed by two professionals who form a partnership to perform one job. An example workweek might involve Teammate A working Monday to Wednesday and Teammate B working Wednesday to Friday at the same position, with some hand-off and complementary responsibilities on the overlap day.

A part-remote working system can mean 4 days at the office, 1 day working from home.

Within the legal profession, there has long needed to be more understanding about individual work patterns and productivity conditions and allowing people to adapt to a work flow/pattern that suits their individual profile and lifestyle outside of work. Change is however more critical than ever, as the industry must adapt to the innovations and changing attitudes to working culture in order to stay competitive. Flexible working is just one part of an impending institutional overhaul.

 

Making Work, Work

We can often make the mistake of talking about a portfolio career – utilising your experience and qualifications to work in more than one part time position or a series of contract positions– as something that happens as a result of circumstance or out of necessity, rather than realising it can be an extremely smart and strategic move. The number of people moving to a portfolio career is on the rise internationally, many of whom are opting to change the way they work to broaden their experience and challenge themselves further. Obelisk consultants have cited the extra opportunities that they have been able to seize as a result of adopting a portfolio career path. We take a closer look at some of these…

Expanding your horizons

Many Obelisk consultants have been able to work across multiple sectors that they would never have been exposed to in their previous career path. Likewise they were able to gain insights from a number of different clients, becoming exposed to their unique business needs. This has provided not just knowledge and insight to more industries, but also enhanced their softer skills set that are vital for lawyers.

A pace to suit you, now

Life changes mean, that for many in the legal sector, they will have to say goodbye to, or put the brakes on the career that they love. A portfolio career allows legal professionals to take on as much or as little work as they need and can handle at any given time. You can be in full control of your time and you no longer have to work to rigid expectations of others, but rather, find the balance between what works for you and the business concerned. A career break won’t hold you back in this regard; you can pick up work at a pace that suits and builds on your experience. Plus you can take on more work as and when you want to – some Obelisk consultants work on a stand by basis with clients and are available full-time when the need arises.

Brand new skills

A portfolio career can offer the opportunities to broaden your skillset in ways that a traditional career path may not. As an independent worker you are not only gaining further experience in law, you are also developing your skills in time management, client relations and business matters. The transferable skills you will acquire can lead to new challenges; it may inspire the confidence to set up an entirely new business, work as a coach or mentor or even write a book about your experiences. Obelisk consultant Rebecca Hayes was able to start and continue a freelance design business alongside her legal work, allowing her the balance between a creative outlet and legal knowledge, while another, Simon Frater, was able to pursue his interest in jewellery making as a silversmith.

Be a pioneer

More and more companies are looking for flexible and responsive legal talent to suit their schedules and changing business requirements. It can be hard for these companies to find legal professionals who have the experience and right approach to this kind of work. Building a portfolio career and being open to flexible working, opens the door to more opportunities for yourself, and also means you can help to lead the way in changing attitudes within the legal industry towards flexible and remote work, thereby providing more opportunities for others to work in a way that suits their lives.

Making Work, Work

How many hours are being lost in your organisation due to un-flexible working practices? That’s the question we have been putting out there since the launch of our #mymillionhours campaign towards the end of last year. We calculated that we have a total of 1 million hours available in our pool of legal talent. With that in mind, it’s easy for us to see why employing flexible working practices have increased productivity and competitive edge for so many organisations.

Outside of our own clients, organisations that are citing flexible working practices as a direct cause of an uptick in productivity include Lloyds Banking Group, where, in a Future of Work Institute report conducted in 2012, 66% of line managers and colleagues said they considered that flexibility improved efficiency and productivity. Cisco was another example from the study detailing significant productivity gains.

One of the main arguments for flexible working practices in business is the wellbeing and happiness of employees. But there are a whole host of reasons why flexible working provides a competitive advantage…

Individual productivity and morale

Starting with the main argument – flexible and remote ways of working allows employees to do what is required of them in their role in a manner that fits with other priorities in their day to day lives, as well as getting proper rest and recuperation time throughout the year. Happier, healthier employees naturally have more energy and enthusiasm for the tasks at hand, as well as reduced absenteeism due to sickness. However, there is another aspect to this – flexible working shouldn’t just be about avoiding burnout or working around obstacles to being in the office, it’s about fostering an entire working culture that treats everyone as individuals. Flexible working practices show trust, understanding and supportive attitudes towards all. Rather than feeling pushed out or a burden on the organisation, with flexible working culture open to all people feel more included and valued within an organisation.

Business overhead and efficiency savings

Our rapidly evolving technological landscape and globalised economy means that businesses have to be more agile and streamlined than ever. Every business of every size should also be considering its energy usage on a daily basis as part of a commitment to protecting the environment on which we all depend. Moving to mobile devices, shared office space etc. can dramatically cut down on wastage.

Optimisation of labour

By renouncing the culture of presenteeism in favour of a flexible model, organisations can better plan labour resources required at any given time, thus ensuring that no resource is underused or overburdened and everyone is working on exactly what needs to be done and is not losing time through travel, unnecessary meetings and the need to show face late into the evening just to impress the boss. When those pressing tasks are out of the way, the hours gained can be used to look to the next challenge, or allow you to spend more time on creative ideas and ways to grow the business – the bigger picture.

Bigger talent pool

By employing freelance, part time and contract staff your talent pool becomes broader. Re-activated talent makes up a huge portion of our legal workforce – many who had found it difficult to get back into work due to a culture of presenteeism have been able to take their career to the next level, and their clients have benefited immensely as a result! Latent talent is a huge cost to our economy, it’s time to tap into it and reap the rewards.

 

Making Work, Work

We are in the midst of some enormous shifts in our working culture, with flexible and remote working becoming a more common feature, and often the standard approach in some organisations. 97% of UK businesses now offer at least one form of flexible working, according to an article in the Financial Times, which discusses the seemingly minimal take-up of flexible working in UK despite policy shifts.

In some industries in particular flexible working is not being actively encouraged or grasped by workers. Why is there is still reluctance and resistance to the idea? It’s not only company leaders who are resisting, employees are reluctant to enquire about options for fear of being negatively perceived. It’s time we busted the myths and dispelled the remaining anxiety around flexible working patterns…

It will cost my business

In actual fact, negative attitudes to flexible working are probably one of the biggest things holding back British businesses. While it is has been shown in multiple surveys and reports that the majority of workers favour flexible working options over any employment benefit, a third of employees still worry that their bosses will think negatively of them if they were to request flexible or remote working options, according to a poll from webexpenses.

It is becoming increasingly accepted that happier, healthier employees who are able to maintain a work life balance will be more productive. The Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM)’s ‘Goodbye 9 to 5’ study found a  huge 82% of managers thought that flexible working was beneficial to their business, in terms of improved staff productivity, commitment and staff retention, with almost 40% of UK bosses saying they can see the positive impact mobile working has on their business’ bottom line. Plus, since 81% of respondents to a My Family Care/Hydrogen report stated they would look for flexible work options before joining a new company, it is an essential condition to have to ensure you attract the talent you need.

It shows a lack of commitment

Amazingly, this negative perception comes from younger employees; with a survey of Gen Y finding that 31% believe that opting to work means being less committed to their work. On the contrary, people who take on flexible working are very committed, determined people. Many of Obelisk’s own consultants are simultaneously running businesses or pursuing other goals they would otherwise not have been able to. The fact is they are fully engaged with their work, perhaps even more so, as they are doing it because they want to. Flexible working allows people a route to continue or return to the work they love when they might have otherwise been forced to give up. The opportunity to do so is very much appreciated and is never taken for granted.

It’s only for women with children

Obelisk consultants include women with children, women without, men with children, and men without. Flexible working isn’t about allowing a certain demographic to work differently; it’s adopting a change to our entire working culture for better wellbeing, use of talent and productivity across the board. It’s important as a manager to offer flexible working options that are available and encouraged for all employees, to avoid creating resentment and ensuring that a complete culture is created, rather than some additional conditions for a few.

We don’t have the technology

You don’t need to overhaul your system to allow people to work remotely and securely from their own devices. By ensuring you put a strong mobile working policy in place, you can keep files and sensitive information secure. Shared drives and messaging platforms are all cost effective and easy to set up around systems already in place. Mobile working technology can be invested in and maintained within even the slimmest of budgets.

It is not appropriate for managers and more senior professionals

The culture of presenteeism is particularly prevalent amongst senior employees and business owners, so it’s understandable that many senior managers simply think that flexible working doesn’t apply to them. As previously stated, it is vital that flexible working options are available to all employees of all ages, and indeed levels, to foster a successful flexible working environment.

At Obelisk we have seen huge changes in approaches to flexible working in the legal services industry. We look at every role in terms of an opportunity for more flexible way of making work work, whether it is full time, part-time or remote. Attitudes are changing but we need to keep the conversation going to ensure options are made available to everyone, and are more widely taken up.

Making Work, Work

If you work on a freelance basis, you may not receive formal appraisals.  However, your personal performance will be central to the chances of being offered new opportunities. Working as a legal consultant s requires you to be aware of the pressures on legal departments to deliver accurate legal and commercially focused advice to their businesses. There may be a perception that freelancers may not take performance issues as seriously as full-time staff because of their temporary nature.  Yet in our experience, successful consultants (as well as personal pride in doing a job well) know that high performance is critical to their success in working in a freelance capacity. This requires an ability to ‘read’ the culture and standards necessary of the permanent team and matching them. However, without a traditional employment structure to set performance reviews and parameters, how does a consultant measure and monitor their performance?

Assess the business needs and priorities

It is vital to find a way to assess the needs and priorities of a client’s business and ensure they are being met. At Obelisk, the client relationship team seek to understand their needs and suggest tailored legal solutions involving specialised consultants. Obelisk has built up a unique picture and understanding of the clients’ needs and pressure points and are aware that a legal team has to deliver to its business to a very high standard. This emphasis is important to understand as a consultant and your credibility and future work opportunities very much depends on meeting the client’s specific needs.

What skills are GC’s looking for?

Needs do vary across organisations and sectors, but there are some broad expectations that can help you measure your performance on the job. We spoke to general counsel across a variety of sectors: banking and financial services, multinational consumer goods and footwear and clothing, to investigate what they see as the key skills and focus for an in house lawyer.

  • Legal competency is a given, but lawyers must be able to show how they keep up to date
  • Evidence of core skills – drafting, negotiation, advocacy and communication
  • Commercial nous, an in-depth understanding of sector specific issues for the business (e.g. resourcing, supply chain, distribution and delivery of services, employment, IP etc.)
  • The ability to forge relationships with sector trade bodies and regulators, if the role requires this
  • Ability to co-ordinate across the different business functions and communicate effectively
  • Capacity to advise the business with solutions, but within their risk appetite – what one GC called ‘Simplify, Navigate and Solve’.
  • Competency with technology platforms – be aware of the commonly used tools in business and particularly those that can help you work effectively Awareness of the cultural ethos and communication styles and be able to report effectively with the context of the business in mind
  • Consider the long-game even when coming in on a very short-term project – clients have had experiences that have left a mess to be cleaned up when the job is done, so it’s vital to understand bigger picture of job you are doing
  • To summarise: good in house lawyers are a part of the business in all senses.

How to build this into your career as a consultant

Here is some guidance on continuous reviewing of performance as a legal consultant:

Aside from analysing your performance from a client perspective, it’s important to assess your own goals and objectives in line with the client’s: is the project moving you forwards?  What can you learn whilst working to improve your skills and experience? Is there any capacity for training informal or formal whilst in the role? Such as handbooks and templates which may give sector specific insights. At Obelisk, you will get free access to PLC when in role and reduced cost access to external training courses, as well as free monthly workshops and links in the weekly update letter. Under the new SRA Continuing Competency requirements, you have to keep up to date and keep a plan and record of how you are maintaining professional competent.

Communication

It is our experience that the key to successful freelance work is building trust swiftly and this is achieved by clear and open communication. Address minor frustrations before they escalate. Your client may not be showing any signs of frustration but are you experiencing some of your own? Is there a way of solving the issue, could you be communicating more effectively? Reflect on the ease in which you are able to complete tasks, if you don’t have everything you need to do the job well, it is up to you to speak up. Understanding targets and priorities are particularly important when working in a freelance capacity. We can help and advise you if you are unclear.

As a consultant, you need to have empathy and understanding of every client and their business on a level that you would have as a permanent member of staff, so continually reviewing these key points against your own work is vital. We seek feedback from clients during each role and will discuss this with you as well as an end of role assessment. We view this as key in terms of meeting our client’s needs and ensuring that our consultants are given every chance to succeed.

Family & WorkWomen in Law

“It is fantastic to be able to provide a useful service despite lifestyle changes, and to be valued for what you can contribute.”

Tell us a little about yourself.

I am an ex-city asset finance lawyer, happily living on the Sussex coast, wife to my childhood sweetheart and mum to Podge the house rabbit, an uber-intelligent autistic 8 year old son and my ballerina/vet/future prime minister 5 year old daughter.

Why did you decide to go freelance and work for Obelisk?

I have been with Obelisk for about two and a half years. I moved into freelance work because combining family life and my city work pattern was becoming impossible.  After a short career break I felt that dipping a toe into freelance work through Obelisk might just work, and two and half years later it still is!

What has working in this way enabled you to do differently?

I work completely differently to conventional work patterns, working at any time during a 24-hour period and fully remotely.  This means I can do the school run, help with homework, have a life and still commit to the number of hours of work a day my clients require.

What roles have you had during this time?

Through Obelisk I have been placed in 7 different roles, three of which are still on-going. I have worked for IT, media and telecoms companies and also for a large online retailer. My roles have included everything from large due diligence projects, holiday cover, ad hoc support and projects spanning several months.  My work is incredibly varied, and my role for my clients varies from being their sole legal resource to being part of large team of in-house lawyers, to everything in between.

How do you work with clients?

I work fully remotely (with the occasional trip into London for a client meeting), and I prefer to work part-time for several clients at a time. In terms of how we communicate, on one of my placements we had a weekly “team meeting” which everyone dialled into, to update the team on their current matters and seek help/advice as needed.  That system worked very well for me, as being remote it is important to link into the wider team you are supporting.  Another of my clients Skypes me for regular chats and to give instructions, which again enables me to participate in a similar way as I would in an office environment

Have you been able develop skills or extend your experience into other areas?

My skills and experience are unrecognisable from those of the specialist city lawyer I used to be.  I have learnt to research things I need the answer to, draft without precedents and understand business need quickly.  My city-experience was 11 years of asset finance, but now I am also confident to review and advise on IT/media/telecoms and retail matters, which is an opportunity I would never have had in city private practice.  As a result, I am a much more well-rounded lawyer.

How has the legal services market changed over the course of your professional career?

It is unrecognisable since I did my first city vacation placement in 1998.  There was one career path then: you either moved up to the next PQE level, or you left.  Equally for clients, they had very little choice in terms of the legal services available to them, having to pay for lawyers’ office overheads and services which were not necessarily tailored for their needs, or hire full time permanent in-house lawyers.  Now there are so many paths available to lawyers, and clients have so many more flexible options for how to resource their legal needs.  So many of us find that our ambitions and lives change during the course of our careers, it is fantastic to be able to provide a useful service despite lifestyle changes, and to be valued for what you can contribute, using your life experience as well as legal experience.

 

Making Work, Work

Burnout isn’t inevitable. On National Stress Awareness Day, we look at the endemic levels of stress in the legal profession and why it should no longer be tolerated as ‘part of the job’.

How much stress in our careers is acceptable? Law is widely considered to be one of the most highly stressful industries by those both inside and outside the profession. We all thrive on a certain amount of pressure, but on-going periods of high stress can have serious implications on physical and mental health.

Lawyers and the Pursuit of Happiness is a recent study by Keystone Law examining the happiness and wellbeing of 300 legal professionals. It found more than 63% of those surveyed believe law is more stressful than any other profession. Other studies have shown mental health occurrences more than double in law than other professions. Tellingly, the majority of respondents in the Keystone study (37.5%) cited flexible working as a solution to make job more enjoyable and less stressful.

As the legal services industry begins to change, flexible working patterns are more available to people with family and life demands. But this isn’t the whole story – it’s not just about accommodating personal circumstance, it’s about changing the culture of legal work to stop accepting burnout as an inevitable price to pay for being a lawyer. Legal work is highly valuable and it requires years of training, experience and aptitude to do the job well. However, it shouldn’t mean that people should have to run themselves into the ground to be successful. Everyone has to put in the overtime now and again, but a fair share of downtime should be facilitated. Client demands, a key point of stress for many lawyers in the study, can be met with more human first working patterns. As pointed out to us recently by an Obelisk consultant, with these changes clients have so many more flexible options to resource their legal needs, rather than paying for services and overheads they don’t require – potentially reducing stress on their part. With changing working patterns more and more companies are discovering that more can be achieved with less impact on mental and physical health, and that fostering culture with extreme levels of pressure is counterproductive long term. Healthier, happier legal professionals work better and are therefore likely to keep doing so for longer.

Take action

The International Stress Management Association identifies the psychological, emotional, physical and behavioural stress symptoms, such as memory lapses, mood swings, weight fluctuations and self-neglect. If you feel it is time to start making some changes to the way you work, there are options out there, and people you can talk to – many of whom have been there and come through the other side. Talk to a doctor, and have some honest conversations with friends and relations. Be part of the change and consider flexible working options to take control of your working life, and together perhaps we can banish the culture of burnout once and for all.

Stop stress from being the measure by which you value your worth as a professional. Explore The Attic for more thoughtful reads on the topic.

Making Work, Work

A recent report showed that 81% of people would look for flexible working before joining a new company. But businesses in the western world are still slow to respond to the demands for flexible and remote work infrastructures.

Last week, we were looking at the details of a report on The Competitive Advantage of Flexible and Family Friendly Working, compiled by My Family Care. The report looked at the way that people across a variety of industries work and how they want to work. It provided some very interesting insights about both employees and employers. According to the results, a whopping 81% of employees would look for flexible working options before joining a company. In addition, over half of respondents (53%) would prefer flexible work over a 5% salary increase. Naturally the trend is slightly stronger amongst parents and carers, but overall the majority of Millennials and those over the age of 34 would like to work flexible to some degree (51% and 71% respectively).

And while 32% actively promote flexible work practices in their business, 68% admit they don’t, while 61% of companies involved in the study say they allow flexible working to take place ‘under the radar’. There is still the impression that a high number of business leaders recognise the need to embrace remote and flexible work patterns. Perhaps, because industry cultures are slow to respond to the growing trend, they are reluctant to take the leap and invest in a proper course of action. Indeed, this would be backed up by another recent study by Epicor that found companies in the developed world are slow to invest in technologies such as sharing platforms, and cloud storage that support remote and flexible working patterns. Emerging markets are proving to be a step ahead, with 75% of businesses in emerging markets agree that flexible working practices and technologies are significant in helping retain key people (compared to 62% of respondents from developed countries).

With our focus this month on the time and productivity gains to be made from the 1 Million Hours available to legal businesses from our pool of talent, statistics like those above still come as a surprise. Our global, mobile society is hardly a new or emerging trend, so we would expect to see more businesses actively investing and promoting agile and remote working practices. Those who are doing so would appear to still be pioneers of progression.

Get in touch to be part of the changing legal landscape and see what you can gain from working differently.