At The Attic, we are always interested to talk to people doing interesting things in the legal industry, so we were delighted to have the chance to catch up with Gavin Sheridan, former investigative journalist, now CEO of Vizlegal. Having previously worked in a social media startups, he became interested in law and felt that there were opportunities to use technology to improve things for people working in the law. The result was Vizlegal, a legal search and tracking platform.
Can you tell us about your background and what brought you to legal tech?
I’m Gavin Sheridan, the co-founder and CEO of Vizlegal. My background is in investigative journalism – freedom of information (FOI) and open source intelligence, in particular. I previously worked as Director of Innovation at a social media startup called Storyful that specialised in open source investigations, and which was later acquired by News Corp.
I became interested in law via litigation involving my FOI and Aarhus requests for information to Irish public bodies. I felt that there were opportunities to improve the state of the art when it comes to legal information, litigation, and mobile accessibility and open data.
How would you define the scope of Vizlegal?
Our scope is global but we’ve started with Ireland, the EU and the UK. We think there’s an enormous amount of data out there to acquire and organise.
The intention of Vizlegal is to “empower lawyers by indexing and graphing the relationships of all the world’s legal information.”
So why do lawyers need Vizlegal? What benefit does that bring to a firm or the everyday working life of a lawyer?
Lawyers use us every day for various reasons – but mainly it boils down to two main things: searching for things, and keeping up to date with things.
This can include knowing
what stage your case is at,
when the other side has filed something, or
when a new judgment is issued that contains a certain phrase you are interested in.
For others, it’s being able to quickly look up a court rule or practice direction on your phone. And for others, it’s digging through tribunal or court decisions to find a key one.
What is it about the intersection between law and technology that is interesting to you?
I come from a technical background, so I tend to take an interest in the application of technology to any field. Law is interesting because it has been relatively unaffected thus far by digital transformation.
Do you think it helps to come from a non-legal background?
It certainly gives you a different perspective. As a non-practitioner, I tend to look at things with a fresh pair of eyes, which may give some advantage in identifying inefficient processes that could maybe be improved.
In every industry, including journalism, there are many things done because “that’s the way we’ve always done it”, and law is no different. We think that there are many, many opportunities to make the lives of our customers (practitioners!), both less stressful and more productive.
Access to data is central to access to justice – does that resonate with you?
Yes it does. I’m an FOI advocate, litigator and trainer and have spent a decade in the access to information domain. I believe that without adequate access to legal data or information, access to justice is hindered for everyone.
How is Vizlegal changing the legal space in Ireland and legal outcomes?
We are less focused on legal outcomes than we are on improving the lives of our customers. If we can reduce anxiety, increase productivity, make peoples’ lives easier and happier, then we think that we are achieving our goals. We think that these things lead to second-order benefits in the system overall and that’s a good thing.
How will technology affect the legal landscape?
We are in an information-heavy industry and that information needs to be organised and structured. We think that technology will mean that more lawyers can do more things with less time and more productively. The machines can focus on the mundane tasks, while the humans apply their skills in the areas where human brains are best.
What key skills do you think lawyers need today (particularly in terms of tech)?
Understanding product development and customer empathy is an interesting area – it is a skill that many other industries are focussed on. Also, understanding that data is not scary and that spreadsheets are great! (Journalists are going through the same thing!)
What key skills, particularly tech, should tomorrow’s lawyers be developing?
Continued focus on customer happiness and success is important – and learning new ways to achieve the same goal, but better is also great. I think that the keyword is adaptable.
What’s next for Vizlegal?
We continue to add to our coverage and we continue to add tools to make the life of a practitioner easier: including better court date management, better alerts, better and faster ways to search and improvements in managing lots of these things on mobile devices.
Always the goal is: how can we reduce the number of steps, clicks or taps to achieve the job that is needed to be done by our customers. We will expand into the UK market this year and then, to the rest of the world.
Any last words to add?
We enjoy buying coffee for lawyers so we can listen to their problems – be it using court forms, rules, badly built government websites or anything else. Our door is always open.
Or the train, or gym. Wherever you’ve time spare to yourself, get your headphones on and dive into our top picks of educational delights, interviews, humour and the ultimate in fluffy indulgence if you have even a passing interest into the royal family.
American journalist, political commentator and broadcaster Dan Carlin is famed for his unique blend of “high drama, masterful narration and Twilight Zone-style twists”, winning awards for bringing history to life in a rather unorthodox way.
His Hardcore History podcast episode Ghosts of the Ostfront, regarding the Eastern Front of World War Two, won Slate Magazine’s award for the fifth-best podcast of all time.
Episodes are often four hour deep dives into periods of history you won’t have studied in the same way at school.
You’ve probably already heard of Serial, as episodes of seasons one and two have been downloaded nearly 350 million times, establishing an ongoing podcast world record.
Serial is created by Sarah Koenig, who says the podcast is a bit like a documentary “about the basics: love and death and justice and truth. All these big, big things”. A non-fiction narrative, Serial is divided into episodes, with each series investigating a different issue – season one is built around the murder of an 18-year-old high school student who disappeared one afternoon.
Serial has won awards for the innovative telling of a long-form non-fiction story (including the first-ever Peabody awarded to a podcast) and needs to be listened to in order – not one to dip in and out of but one to keep you gripped for weeks to come.
Longform.org recommends new and classic non-fiction from around the web and the associated podcast is a weekly conversation with a non-fiction writer on how they tell stories.
All lawyers no matter what work they actually do surely once harboured a secret desire to uncover crimes and this episode with Jeff Maysh does exactly that. A freelance writer based in LA, Maysh uncovered the story of the ex-cop who gamed the McDonalds Monopoly game and stole millions, writing a piece for the Daily Beast earlier in 2019 about “Jerome Jacobson and his network of mobsters, psychics, strip-club owners, and drug traffickers [who] won almost every prize for 12 years, until the FBI launched Operation Final Answer“.
“I’ve always looked for stories with the theme of identity and identity theft. I’m very interested in people leading double lives. All of my stories are the same in a sense. Whether that’s a spy or a fake cheerleader or a bank robber or even a wrestler—someone is pretending to be someone they’re not, leading a double life. I find that really exciting. I’m drawn to characters who put on a disguise.” ~ Jeff Maysh
Podcasts about American politics can be a fascinating and rewarding rabbit hole and the best is hosted by David Axelrod, a former senior advisor to President Obama, and director of the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics.
His podcast, The Axe Files, has a 300 strong back catalogue of episodes where he has interviewed the great and good (and otherwise) of US and UK politics as well as a host of others.
Highlights over the years have included Barak Obama (#108), Karl Rove, former White House senior adviser and deputy chief of staff (#80), Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (#208) and staff writer for the New Yorker Jeffrey Toobin – he covered the O.J. trial as a journalist (#241).
Die-hard football fans will no doubt already listen to former England and Liverpool player Peter Crouch’s collaboration with Five Live alongside Tom Fordyce and Chris Stark. Those less obsessed may appreciate Crouch’s remarkedly natural talent for opening up and giving an intriguing analysis of his time as a professional footballer. That Peter Crouch Podcast is taking a break from new episodes for the summer but there are plenty of back episodes to whet your appetite for the new season starting again come August.
Another BBC production, this time the story of how the first moon landing was saved. 13 Minutes to the Moon tells the story of the people who made Apollo 11 happen and who prevented it from going badly wrong. The series of 12 episodes was first released in the lead up to the 50th anniversary on 20 July 2019 and episode 11 is the 13 minutes in real-time. As it says in the first episode, it isn’t a spoiler to say we know they got there, “this podcast is about trying to understand how that happened.”
13 Minutes to the Moon is hosted by Dr Kevin Fong, a medical doctor with a special interest in space medicine who wished he could have been an astronaut, who “wanted to take the listener along with him on a deep dive into a subject of a lifelong fascination”.
How To Fail With Elizabeth Day “celebrates the things that haven’t gone right” where guests explore what their failures have taught them about succeeding better. Day, a British journalist, broadcaster and novelist, was previously a features writer for The Observer from 2007 to 2016 and has also written four novels.
Looking at the twin concepts of success and failure, Day says:
“It was fascinating to see how men and women had different attitudes. Many of the men I approached balked at the idea they had failed at anything. They cited lost tennis matches, unrisen soufflés and the inability to play a musical instrument. The women routinely responded that they would have trouble whittling down their myriad failures to just three instances”.
Start with some of the most listened to episodes: Dolly Alderton (S1, Ep 3), David Nicholls (S1, Ep 7) and Phoebe Waller-Bridge (S5, Ep 2) as well as Day interviewing herself (S1, Ep 8).
TheNew Yorker‘s editor, David Remnick, presents a weekly “hourlong program that is very much of The New Yorker, infused by its values, hosted by its writers and editors and artists, but also something unique, capacious, freewheeling”.
The extensive back catalogue includes guests such as Aziz Ansari, Sarah Keonig and Amy Schumer alongside staff writers and cartoonists but it is perhaps best listened to in ‘real-time’ so start with the most recent, which unsurprisingly this week features again the anniversary of the moon landing.
Interviewing the biggest names from film, TV, comedy and others, David Tennant and his widely appreciated “velvety voice” gently coaxes out his guests’ stories and manages to ask the questions to which you might never have known you wanted the answer.
Guests, an eclectic mix, include Olivia Colman, Gordon Brown and John Hamm but there is no extensive back catalogue as this podcast only started in January 2019.
Return home inspired to pare back your possessions and re-assess your values by listening to Joshua Fields-Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus, better known to their millions of listeners as The Minimalists. Addressing all manner of topics including positive thinking, holidays, budgeting, possessions and the decline of the American Dream, the message is to inspire people to lead more meaningful lives.
Presented by American journalists Kaitlin Menza and Lisa Ryan, who both write about The Royals for everyone from Cosmo to NY Mag, this is the ultimate in switching off beachside. Sometimes we all need to listen to something a little less serious, so if you’ve even a fleeting interest in Kate, Meghan and royal fashion, this will pass the time nicely.
Do you have an essential listen to add to our list? Let us know @ObeliskSupport
As part of our Wednesday Live series at Obelisk Support, we hosted Graham Ellis, Assistant Commissioner at the London Fire Brigade, and Verona Clarke, Station Manager, Special Operations Group at the London Fire Brigade. Both shared precious insights on how their teams anticipate and react to crisis situations.
The population of London is estimated at 8.8 million spread out over 607 square miles, with 300 languages spoken and in 2016, welcomed 31.5 million visitors. To keep all these people safe, the London Fire Brigade (LFB) is the busiest fire department in the UK and one of the busiest in the world, operating with a yearly budget of £382 million. No law firm, however big, can claim to watch the back of that many clients with so many shifting parameters. But as we deal with our own daily ‘firefights’, here are 6 leadership lessons all lawyers will be able to relate to…
#1 Prepare For the Impossible
The London Fire Brigade’s norm is to prepare for the unexpected.
In a toxic paradox, firefighters have to learn to adapt in difficult situations in real time and with ever-decreasing staff and resources. By far their best weapon to avert risk is prevention. As part of its fire prevention campaign, the LFB carries out 80,000 home fire safety visits every year. Since 9/11, the LFB has created an Urban Search & Rescue team that covers victims of urban catastrophes. There is a plan for the event of a meteorite falling on Earth. As you can see, the LFB makes its set of responses very flexible but preparation without communication would be pointless.
The Legal Angle
As GDPR recently showed, you can never be ready for every scenario but you can certainly have response mechanisms that kick in when emergency strikes. In fact, lawyers have long played a key role in helping clients to understand and mitigate risk which means that they’ve had to adapt over time to keep up with the evolution of risks. A recent study showed that over 80% of lawyers said that risks are formally reviewed at least every six months. Is 6 months enough? Is your law firm even doing that?
From cyber security to industry compliance or legal exposure, a good risk management policy starts with an audit. If you don’t know where you’re starting from, you can’t set up preventive measures and that’s step 1 of managing any type of risk (also less expensive and stressful than dealing with a bad situation). Read these 5 Steps to Legal Risk Management and start planning for your legal meteorite. Then you can move on with your communication strategy – because risk management is a business-wide concern.
#2 Cooperate with Other Teams
The LFB wouldn’t be able to do its job without other agencies such as the police, government agencies or even the public. How do you alert the LFB to an act of terror if you’re witnessing one or seeing something that’s off? The LFB’s primary response to disasters is prevention via public awareness campaigns and relies on the cooperation of other parties to be efficient.
In the case of an emergency, who you gonna call?
999. Write it down, just in case. It’s the UK number for emergencies. Please call it before filming to stream live on Facebook or Twitter.
The Legal Angle
It used to be that legal teams operated as stand-alone satellites in big companies, checking in at senior level and dealing with documents that were mysterious and scary to all other departments. Today, legal departments are often part of their company’s business strategy and understand what they need to do to get deals done.
#3 Embrace Diversity in Your Teams
At the end of the 1980s, the LFB employed 9,000 people, including 20 women and 80 BAME. As of 2018, the numbers have significantly shifted. The LFB employs 4,611 people, including 333 women and 606 BAME. That’s one fifth of the workforce today versus less than 1%. The LFB is working on a recruitment campaign to improve their diversity numbers and to offer not only flexible work options, but to retain minority and female staff by rethinking the promotion process. Recognising that they are a public-facing agency, the LFB strives to improve their diversity numbers both in offices and in operational teams.
By having greater diversity in their teams, the LFB gets a collective of opinions that helps them get stronger and communicate better in a modern world. They need to engage with communities whose first language might not be English. Verona Clarke of the LFB does a lot of presentations at schools to show that the LFB represents the community, that women can be firefighters too. In her words, “the LFB needs the best of the best but it also needs diversity, the multilingual people who look and feel like everyone else.” That is true diversity.
Listen to Verona Clarke explain what it means to be seen and be in her job.
I’m an advocate of the importance of #diversity for quality decision making, ideas, strength in unity & removal of interpersonal barriers that help oneself to be the best. I met Verona Clark from @LondonFire who explained why it made a difference to be seen & be in her job. pic.twitter.com/HoD3M3x1GS
In many ways, the London Fire Brigade is way ahead of the legal profession on this aspect. The Attic and Obelisk Support stands in favour of diversity and regularly denounce how the legal industry has a major diversity issue. As the Solicitors Regulation Authority reports, women make up 48% of all lawyers in law firms and 47% of the UK workforce but in 2017, women made up 59% of non-partner solicitors compared to just 33% of partners or in the largest firms (50 plus partners), only 29% of partners are female. That’s only one aspect of the progress that needs to happen in the legal profession, with gender pay gaps in law firms at an all-time high, lack of diversity in executive boards and unequal rights for LGBTQ lawyers.
How do you make things better?
First, believe in diversity and inclusion. Firms that offer an inclusive environment for a diverse mix for employees stand to innovate, grow and outperform the competition. Businesses with a healthy balance of men and women are 15% more likely to outperform their competitors, while those with employees from a good mix of ethnic backgrounds are 35% more likely, claims research by McKinsey & Co. You can start by taking 5 steps to empower women in law and by listening to the voice of those missing in your organisation. Since diversity is good for business, why wait?
#4 Take Care of Your Physical Health
A lot of firefighters’ time is done training, responding to emergencies and learning standard operating procedures to stay safe. However, they operate in particularly dangerous places and it’s impossible for them to avoid compromising their physical health. Indeed, firefighters are 200% more likely than the average population to contract types of cancer and they work in a lot of environments that they cannot control with hazardous materials.
That brings us to lawyers, whose only physical test is being able to operate a computer. Safe to say, the two biggest threats to the physical health of lawyers are chairs and take-out meals. For one, sitting for lengthy periods is terrible for your body. Aches and pains are the least of your problems — sitting too much can lead to an early death. You face a higher risk of muscular-skeletal disorders, obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and more, even if you work out regularly.
On the nutrition front, things aren’t all pink either. A 2016 study sponsored by the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation surveying nearly 13,000 currently practicing attorneys found that 21-36% of lawyers qualify as problem drinkers. As reported on The Attic in Why Lawyers Should Take a Proper Healthy Lunch Break, the legal industry is one of the worst culprits for late in the day take-out food orders at the office, with a huge 81% of orders placed at dinner time and an average order time of 8:44pm. Neither poor nutrition nor the lack of exercise contribute to a healthy lifestyle.
Currently, fit lawyers like The Lean Lawyer, Backwards Guy or David Jones are the exception but they are an inspiration too and the legal profession needs more of them so we all get off our chairs and get our heart pumping. As Nike says, just do it!
#5 Take Care of Your Mental Health
The other part of firefighters’ health is mental health and the post-workshop Q&A discussed the notion of resilience. For many firefighters, resilience is making do with a bad situation. Elina Grigoriou of Grigoriou Interiors, who was in the audience, expressed resilience as “bringing your head above water, not standing above water.” She wondered what Graham Ellis did to keep his own teams resilient.
After seeing the response of colleagues to trauma over many years, Graham Ellis recalled the Soho pub bombing. Some of the people who were the most badly affected then were not the younger recruits but the ones who had seen it all before and had years of emergency preparedness. In modern days, fewer people are exposed to more and more traumatic events, the last drop goes into the bucket and the bucket starts to overflow.
Mental resilience for firefighters is training for disasters, follow-up public inquests, debriefing and follow-up actions. In the 1980s, Ann Willmott built an Advisory and Counseling Team for the LFB that was groundbreaking and involved working with psychologists. Dany Cotton, LFB Commissioner, was at the Grenfell Tower Fire and saw first-hand the horrors and acts of selflessness that firefighters experienced. She went live on ITV to say that “it’s all right not to be all right,” which was the truth, plain and simple. These firefighters will never be the same, with many seeking professional help for their mental health.
The Legal Angle
As explained on The Attic by Elizabeth Rimmer, Chief Executive of LawCare in Lawyers – Your Mental Health and Wellbeing Matter!, lawyers have higher rates of anxiety, depression and stress compared to other professions. It is the culture of the well-known poor work/life balance, the long hours and presenteeism, the competitive environment, the fear of failure and the driven and perfectionist personalities that can be drawn to law. All of this contributes to an environment that can make some people more vulnerable to mental health concerns.
Mental health is a very important and unspoken part of the life of legal professionals that’s still taboo in many firms. If you’re not feeling right, you need to get professional help right now. Don’t delay and don’t underestimate how it could impact your life. Don’t wait until a drop makes the bucket overflow.
#6 Invest in Tech and Infrastructure
When Graham started working at the London Fire Brigade in 1983, firefighters wore rubber Wellington boots, yellow plastic trousers, heavy woolen tuniques and gardening gloves.
Protective equipment in 2018 is a far cry from 1980s standards and includes a full array of digital communications to assist with live interventions.
The Legal Angle
Likewise in the 1980s, lawyers worked with paper and pen, didn’t have computers, let alone mobile phones, and faxed 100-page long documents to clients for signature. Their biggest security risk was probably a fire destroying client files and firm archives and secretaries did all their admin tasks.
Today’s lawyers have become independent professionals who can work remotely with digital communication tools, people who rely on technology like everyone else and who have warmed to the idea of legaltech solutions such as smart contracts or artificial intelligence. It’s not Silicon Valley-level tech engagement just yet, but lawyers have definitely caught up with the 21st century and are working hard to get up to speed with their techie counterparts.
About Graham Ellis
As Assistant Commissioner, Graham also heads up London Fire Brigade’s Special Operations Group and London Resilience Team, responsible for the preparations, training, response and recovery to a range of natural and terrorist related threats, and for overseeing fire service operations across the Greater London area.
About Verona Clarke
Verona Clarke is an Operational Station Manager, Special Operations Group at the London Fire Brigade, she is responsible for the brigades response to large scale events such as New Years Eve Celebrations, London Marathon and many other events. Verona is a frequent speaker at schools and a diversity champion at the London Fire Brigade.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. It seems that negative attitudes to flexible working still abound.
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…
#1 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.
#2 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.
#3 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.
#4 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.
#5 It is not appropriate for managers and 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.
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”.
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.
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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.