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#2 Relying on Outdated Technologies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 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.

Media

The Legal Week Intelligence Top 20 Legal IT Innovators 2016 report profiles industry experts, thought leaders and innovators who are the driving forces in shaping how the future of the legal industry will look.

“I was looking for a new solution to legal outsourcing, which seemed to be all the rage at the time,” explains Denis-Smith. “What I could see was a huge number of talented women leaving law firms. Leadership and technical ability don’t have anything to do with one another but in law firms they merge as one and the same.” She argues that the long hours culture can be problematic for people with young families: “In that environment, you’re measured not for your strengths but for your weaknesses: how many hours you’ve been in the office rather than what you have achieved – a willingness to compromise everything for work.” Obelisk was conceived with the idea that “outsourcing doesn’t need to go abroad, it can be going into people’s homes – a return to the cottage industry”.

Read the full profile here.

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.

Media

Obelisk was one of 30 London-based fast-growing technology scale ups to accompany the Mayor on his trade mission to NYC and Chicago this month. The Attic caught up with Dana to find out how it went…

What kind of businesses and individuals did you meet?

The Mayor of London is a great champion of small businesses, especially given our role as the largest job creators. So it was in this vein that he selected 30 fast growing businesses to join him on his US trip. The businesses had to focus on the B2B market as the nature of the trip was to introduce us to large corporate buyers and to showcase the strong businesses that are London-based.

The other businesses were absolutely fascinating – very innovative services and amazing variety of sectors. Most of them are technology-enabled ground-breaking businesses that are reshaping the industries they serve. The energy of the founders and leaders that joined was truly contagious – a lot of lessons can be learned from being in a peer-to-peer environment that is supportive and ambitious.

How did you enjoy opening the New York Stock Exchange?

This was a unique moment and without a doubt the highlight. It was wonderful that only the women leaders on the trip were invited to join the Mayor to ring the closing bell. Sadiq Khan is not only a supporter of SMEs but also a great believer of the economic value of women in the workplace, so that was truly a special moment.

What do you think of the work the Mayor and the London and Partners team is doing to show London is open for business?

The #LondonIsOpen campaign was a brilliant and positive response to the Brexit vote. It has kept the world’s eyes firmly on London as a business destination; they have done a lot of work to highlight the strength of the private sector, they showcased the fast growing businesses and the general open business environment that London offers as an enabler of building a business.

How important is it for growing London-based companies such as Obelisk to present themselves to the US market in the wake of Brexit?

All fast growing businesses are looking for markets in which they can grow, for business partners that value their services and that can underpin that growth. So being able to be in the US with the Mayor was fantastic from an access and credibility point of view. We now know we have a lot of help at hand to push for growth in the US, across that whole market.

Did you get much down time to explore as a tourist?

I started every day with a long walk – around the financial district or walking along the Highline which is a suspended garden walk along some decommissioned train tracks. Nothing beats jet lag like a walk and a hearty breakfast.

What was the most important take away for you from the experience? What do you hope to see in future once we leave the EU?

If you have a strong business, although a ready-to-access market can help, in the end you can take your services anywhere. Success has no borders.