Making Work, Work

Around 2013, a new kind of flexible worker emerged on the photo-sharing social media platform, Instagram. Taking the concept of flexible (and indeed worker, although that is another article) to an entirely new level, accounts such as @wheresmyofficenow waved goodbye to the more static based notion of flexible working. They became part of a movement sweeping across the mindset of the millennial generation: the flexible worker with no fixed home base, often living out of a van.

Questioning everything from the concept of work right down to the notion that we should remain in one place to do it, these nomadic individuals began documenting life and work from the road and posting photos to Instagram, in answer to the question where’s my office now.

Fast forward to 2019 and this way of life is a growing movement – a sub-culture of people on the move, many of which are embracing minimalism and attempting to reassess what is truly important for a happy and balanced life. All of which is documented for envy and inspiration through the hashtag #vanlife, which currently includes more than five million photos on Instagram.

Where millennial influencers lead, others are sure to follow.

Technology and flexible working

Back in the legal world, flexible working as a concept is growing. “As more companies are working agile policies into their contracts, the legal market as a whole is thriving, with even more talented individuals either entering or returning to the workforce” we noted back in December 2018.

For too long, the concept of lawyers working from the beach, forest or up a mountain has been a reaction to technology in the worst way – overworked city lawyers never switching off, accessing email and responding to client requests from their holidays as efficiently as from their desks, perpetuating a ‘always on’ approach.

The legal market is generally waking up to the idea that flexible working can and should mean “finding hours that suit your life and how you best work” (Anna Whitehouse, Flexible working campaign) which in time will no doubt mean that we will see lawyers and those working in legal markets working from remote locations.

As Louisa Van Eeden-Smit commented in her piece for The Attic last year, “flexible working is just one of the ways the modern legal workforce can work smarter, rather than harder”. In theory, the van life way of life should be able to include lawyers, facilitated largely of course by the advance of technology.

“Taken at its most basic, laptops and smartphones mean that lawyers can be online and contactable 24/7, no matter where they are in the world… add to that the plethora of cutting-edge legal tools, such as case management software, and it’s clear that legal professionals can remain connected to both their clients and colleagues without being physically present in the office. They can execute tasks, securely access shared files, issue and review contracts, send out invoices, and much more.”

Are lawyers working flexibly on a remote global scale?

Search Instagram for #travellinglawyer and you’ll find over a thousand photos mainly from exotic-looking locations, with the occasional British city / county court thrown in for good measure. This is an improvement on the landscape of five years ago, but it seems that at present the majority of travelling lawyers are fitting in their wanderlust lifestyle around their legal career rather than it forming an integral part.

For some, frequent travel from a fixed base is the basis of their current story. They use their Instagram profiles to highlight the places that they visit outside of client boardrooms and the causes that they represent.

Juanita Ingram, a US attorney, author and actress based in the US and London (who founded the Greater London branch of Dress For Success, a charitable organisation that “helps disadvantaged women become economically independent by providing them with free professional clothing and styling and interview coaching, as well as on-going support after they’ve re-joined the workplace”) uses her Instagram and other social media channels to showcase her international travels where she speaks on various topics regarding female empowerment and self-worth.

© iamjuanitaingram

The Legal Eagle Mummy is a lawyer and disability rights advocate whose daughter’s heart condition means she has had to travel abroad for treatment. Anonymous on Instagram, she has been able to work remotely whilst also using her photographs to raise awareness.

© The Legal Eagle Mummy

For others, every spare moment away from the office is spent travelling. They do not yet appear to be working in the same way that those embracing #vanlife are but they are helping build the vision that being a dedicated and brilliant lawyer does not mean remaining in the office 365 days a year.

Kathy Kass is a New York Attorney who spends weekends and holidays travelling and taking part in marathons, documenting her travels online

The anonymous Caffelawyer is a lawyer working for a magic circle firm in London, splitting his time between London and Milan.

© Caffelawyer

When is a travelling lawyer not a lawyer?

On the flip side, the #travellinglawyer hashtag also reveals those for whom the call of remote travel has proved lucrative enough to take a break from law altogether. Prominent #vanlife contributor Lisa Jacobs was a lawyer, as was Felipe Villegas Múnera

© Vacayvans

Both Lisa and Filipe now spend their lives travelling and posting scenes of their travels and methods of transport, providing inspiration of where others could work, monetising their travels in a different way entirely.

Interestingly, many of these ex-lawyers are still happy to share that they were lawyers, which may well encourage others to consider whether they can both travel and work in the legal market.

More soberingly though, for some van life is more of a necessity than a chosen way of life. Liam Seward is not a lawyer, but others in his position could be. Some are teachers, others charity workers. They live remotely because they have to, because they can’t afford to work and rent and living in a van affords them the ability to continue working. 

Where is the future of flexible working?

It is becoming accepted across the board that not everyone seeks to be a partner in the traditional model and a better balance in life is sought right across the profession, from trainees right the way up to experienced partners. Magic circle firms are bringing in flexible working policies allowing all staff to request to work from home. Big law firms are setting up offshoots to address specific types of legal issues staffed entirely by lawyers who choose where and when to work. And of course, there are employers like at Obelisk who make the most of legal talent with a uniquely flexible and remote workforce.

The more that this occurs and people talk about it, or photograph it and share it on social media, the more others will start to listen and follow suit. The mere presence of any lawyers on Instagram showcasing life outside of work and the office is positive, even if as yet the realisation of the dream of truly remote flexible working as a lawyer on the road is perhaps more few and far between.

In another five years, we look forward to the #vanlife concept having evolved more fully. We hope that it will include lawyers and others who have up until now been restrained by increasingly outdated models of working.

Making Work, 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”.