flexible working for freelancing lawyers
Making Work, Work

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

What is flexible working in the legal industry?

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

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

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

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

What do flexible working arrangements cover for legal teams?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Freelance lawyers: beyond work flexibility

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

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





Making Work, WorkWomen in Law

Networking is a term that many people have an uneasy relationship with. Most of us want to seem enthusiastic and interested in the opportunity to schmooze with influential peers, but let’s be honest – for most of us, the idea of networking leaves us filled with a sense of dread. For lawyers, more comfortable in front of a screen than in a room full of strangers, networking is an essential business skill to master.

The problem lies in the idea we have of networking. The term has become somewhat tainted, but networking is still a valuable part of your personal development – and it doesn’t have to be an awkward bragging exchange. To truly gain value from networking, it’s important to think #humanfirst (like we do at Obelisk Support) – go in with genuine desire to learn, meet like-minded peers and be ready to talk about you, your life passions and goals. Here are some alternative networking tips from The Attic to help you learn to love the process…

Breaking the Ice – Introductions

Quite simply – don’t overthink it! A simple “Hello, I’m…” and smile goes a long way. If you are attending a talk or seminar as them what they thought of the discussion and take conversation from there. You don’t need to offload your career history; listen first: Ask them who they are, where they’ve travelled from, what brings them here and reciprocate with answers of your own.

Remember to say your full name! Why? Well first, so you can be distinguished from the two other Sophies in the room, and it also makes it more likely for people to commit your name to memory. When it comes to work talk, don’t just provide a job title and company name – briefly explain exactly what it is you do and why it interests you.

Don’t ‘Work the Room’ – Work With People

Aggressive and obviously strategic tactics to get around to everyone you might think is of influence are an immediate turn off. As always in life, authenticity is key. Don’t try to be something you are not or what you think people want you to be. Whatever level you are at, you are in the process of building yourself up – just like everyone else in that room, whatever level they are at. So be open and honest, and focus on the quality of connection, rather than quantity.l If you are worried about coming across as insincere or if it all still seems too contrived, listen to these anti-faking networking tips from Marie Folero:

– Networking is lifelong practice, see it as a regular habit not just a performance at an event

– Be totally present with each person you are speaking to, it’s not about getting around to the next person

– Be honest about your availability and don’t make promises you can’t keep

– If you have discussed follow up contact/further introductions, take action right away instead of waiting

Providing Value and Gaining Value

You need to ask yourself not just what you are looking for but what you can offer. As previously mentioned, you shouldn’t have to promise the world or pretend to be what you are not – just show yourself to be genuinely interested and motivated by your work. You want to hear about what interests and motivates people and their passions, rather than a list of achievements or a job title. Others will feel the same. This is the foundation of real connections in work and life – the mutual sharing of ideas and inspirations and telling the story of what led us to where we are today.

This TED event talk on active networking talks about how most of us have the wrong idea and approach to networking. He provides some tongue in cheek observations on how we make snap judgements based on appearance, and explains how we often overlook the real value of meeting people and getting to know them, no matter how much ‘relevance’ we think they might have.

Cement Those Connections

Of course, it’s all very well having great, energising conversations at an event, but what should you take away from that? If you feel you have more to learn from and/or teach a person, you need to make sure you establish follow up contact. So ask outright: ‘Where can I find out more about you and your company? ‘Do you use Twitter?’ ‘Can I send you an email with more information?’ Some people don’t hand out business cards anymore. They just connect with you on LinkedIn on the spot.

If you do use business cards (and nice stationery is memorable in many ways) don’t consign those business cards to an elastic band and a dusty drawer, as Mark E. Sackett says! Track and log the contacts you meet – use an online address book, or Outlook, and be sure to add notes of interest that you learned about them while talking to them. This will help to prompt you to include conversational points in your follow up emails, and keep the rapport going.

Where to Network – Offline and Online

There is the question of how useful large events created especially for networking really are. For example, this article on abovethelaw.com advises against them, saying “Instead, go to things that matter. Go to talks and seminars and presentations that are actually about something (besides “networking”).” It all goes back to the question of why you are there; if it’s not going to be of real value to you as an individual it’s not worth doing. The best events to go to are the things that genuinely interest and excite you – as that will ensure you bring the best version of yourself to the occasion. It could be better, then, to make a pledge to regularly attend industry relevant talks and speaking events where the opportunities to network are the side product, not the focus aim. Consider more informal soft skill focused groups – eg Toastmasters, which have a relaxed atmosphere to help build confidence and public speaking skills. Offering yourself up to speak at events is another way of creating more opportunities for networking, so it’s something to consider if you haven’t done it so far!

Remember you can also network online – social media used to be more commonly referred to as social networks after all, so it is time to take it back to basics. Check out our article on managing your presence on LinkedIn for online networking tips.

The bottom line is it’s not just about broadcasting yourself. Think of social media as an ongoing networking event – as intimidating as that sounds it doesn’t mean you have to be posting and messaging people all day long (those are habits that will very quickly get you muted/unfollowed anyway!). It simply means your social media are an open channel which you need to use regularly and interactively to discover and nurture relationships.

Finally, if you can’t find the right group or event for you – create your own!

Sometimes, things simply won’t happen unless you create the opportunity for yourself, so if you see a lack of events or online groups that fit your current situation – be that as a freelance lawyer, someone who is returning to work or is in the middle of a career change – it’s time to make it happen. With online platforms such as Meetup it’s easy to set up a small monthly lawyers breakfast/lunch group in your local area.

Get out there, relax and happy schmoozing!