Making Work, Work

We already know the modern work paradigm is shifting; sitting at a desk in an office from 9 to 5 is no longer the default, and the rise of flexible working is gaining more attention. A recent YouGov survey has revealed that only 6% of working Britons now put in those hours. Instead, 73% work either part-time or with some form of flexible working arrangement (Deloitte and Timewise study).

Flexible working is no longer just a special condition for some people in work. Essentially it’s a way of working that suits the needs of employees of all kinds. This could mean starting and leaving the office earlier or working from home a few days a week. But as Anna Whitehouse of Mother Pukka Flex Appeal campaign explained: “Flexible working doesn’t mean working less or slacking off, it means finding hours that suit your life and how you best work. And it’s not just an issue for parents, either – it’s one of the few issues that both the unionists of the TUC and the employers at the CBI agree on: flexible working is better for staff, and it’s better for profits.”

The benefits are indeed tangible and wide ranging. Vodafone conducted a global survey about flexible working back in 2016, revealing that companies who had implemented agile strategies:

  • Increased company profits (according to 61% of respondents);
  • Improved productivity (83%);
  • Positively impacted company reputation (58%); and
  • Improved staff morale (76%).

Flexi-work also has a knock-on effect on recruitment. As Clare Butler, recruitment expert and Global Managing Director of Lawrence Simmons Recruitment, revealed to Catherine Gleave in our recent piece on “The Future’s Flexi”, employers need to be open-minded about their approach to flexible working going forward because it can make all the difference when it comes to talent acquisition, with many contracts won and lost over this very issue. There is a push towards respecting the work-life balance across the legal profession and if companies push back, they risk losing out on some serious talent. This is especially true regarding working parents and millennials for whom workplace culture, of which this plays a part, is often more important than traditional status indicators, like salary.

Rights to Flexible Working

Companies may not actively offer it as part of recruitment, but after six months in a job, every employee in the UK has the right to request flexible working. While companies aren’t obliged to acquiesce to a request, they are obliged to consider it “in a reasonable manner”. Are you thinking of pitching the case for flexi working to your boss or trying negotiate (or even lay the groundwork for the future) on accepting a new position? Read the LexisNexis piece on the Flex Appeal and #BeBoldforChange here. It’s got the answers to two of the most common – and increasingly outdated – objections: “If we did it for you, we’d have to do it for everyone!” and “You’ll be less productive.”

Even though some companies might dig in their heels, relying on the predictable old arguments for not implementing agile working policies, flexible working is on the rise – both in the country, and in the legal profession, marking a significant turning point for the industry in 2019. 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. As Catherine Gleave notes: “Not only do women feel more empowered to return to the workplace on their own terms, the rising popularity of flexible working means that a varied work structure is the standard rather than a special requirement, thus preventing any bias against candidates who require a more flexible work schedule.”

Working Smarter

In addition to injecting even more talent into the marketplace, flexible working is just one of the ways the modern legal workforce can work smarter, rather than harder. And it’s being facilitated largely 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. But 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.

There’s no more putting it off: the legal market is evolving and the traditional working model is going to diminish. As the market changes, different, more agile working models are on the rise, from portfolio careers to flexible working. These models can benefit both employee and employer, as companies are beginning to realise and act upon, and as 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.

But for those considering taking a flexible approach to work, there are undoubtedly challenges, from the risk of succumbing to procrastination to figuring out how to engender trust at work and stay on top of client care. But at its core there are certain things to do in the run up to taking the leap:

  • Be realistic about what you can do on a flexible schedule and take the time to figure out how and where.
  • Find a forward-looking company with a positive work culture.
  • Research the right tools and technology to facilitate working efficiently out of the office.
  • Discuss it with your team, both full-time in-house and other flexible workers, to make sure there’s buy-in and understanding.
  • Stay flexible and carry out reviews of your arrangement. Be prepared to adjust and change as you go.

For more practical, easy-to-implement solutions and suggestions, read the LexisNexis article on the Future of Law – “Flexible Working for Lawyers: How Far Can You Flex?

The Legal UpdateWomen in Law

The Law360 Satisfaction Survey always makes intriguing reading – providing, in U.S. lawyer’s own words, a far reaching analysis of level of happiness in the industry, the best firms to work for, and of course key insights into diversity and gender representation. This year, in light of the #MeToo movement that began in Hollywood, the subject of sexual harassment is also a talking point.

Among the things we learned were that even with the prospect of high earnings, law graduates are bogged down and stressed by student debts as other graduates, with nearly a third grappling with six-figure debts, leading to many putting off major life events such as starting a family.

We also saw some evidence of progress being made in terms of more women lawyers in firms led by women from the Glass Ceiling Report, though that progress was deemed to be lagging in larger firms, and fairly static overall in the five years that the survey has been conducted, as explained by editor-in-chief Anne Urda. However, there was a particular finding in the Satisfaction Survey that put this picture into an uncomfortable context: Women lawyers were still reporting, in startling numbers, incidences of direct gender discrimination and sexual harassment. Shockingly, a third of female respondents report having experienced sexual harassment, and more than half said they had faced discrimination. Meaning we’re not just dealing with a lack of action or effective measures to encourage women in law – women are still actively being shut out, shut down and even harassed and assaulted because of their gender.

Lawyers are Saying #MeToo – Are They Being Heard?

The Attic recently published some of the derogatory things that are said to women in law. With credit to those on the receiving end, those women recounted their experiences with clarity and, in some instances, wry humour. That doesn’t make it ok for any of them – and it’s impossible not to get angry on their behalf when faced with such stories and statistics that should have no place in any society, let alone in the year 2018.

Lawyers are widely perceived as being pragmatic and stoic in nature. Though passionate about the rule of law and justice for the people they deal with, they achieve these aims in a reserved and reasoned manner. They understand more than most the importance of process and the harm that a bad one can do for both accused and accuser. They exchange mostly in polite scrutiny of their industry, because they approach issues with a level head, but also perhaps out of fear that any sense of anger or outrage could hurt their reputation. And we all know the negative responses that follow when a woman publicly expresses a feeling about something… We are perhaps unlikely then to see some the type of attention drawing activism that has been part of the #MeToo movement and Time’s Up campaign in Hollywood, but that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been a concerted effort to use the momentum of the now international conversation to draw attention to the issue in the legal industry.

But many feel the industry needs to go further – beyond investigating individual instances of misconduct – and actually requires a culture overhaul, according to speakers on a panel at the American Bar Association‘s annual meeting Thursday in Chicago. How can those in the industry make this cultural shift happen? Will it need a pivotal #MeToo moment to create real change?

Power and Privilege

In a feature for Vice, a group of lawyers discussed the conduct of former United States Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski, and an interesting point was raised about the power structure of court life tenure federal judges and law student carrying the aforementioned burden of debt – losing out financially simply isn’t an option for many young lawyers, so they are more likely to put up with wrongdoing against them. These hierarchical arrangements in courts must be discussed as well as how people starting out in law can be safeguarded from abuses of power.

Before conversations were happening in public, many women put the responsibility on their own shoulders to prove themselves and perform better to convince people that they were not just sexual objects. Once conversations came out in the open more, the men on the panel recounted conversation with other men who began to question whether they could say wrong thing, and there was a backlash of fear of the movement. There was also the suggestion that some may choose to not hire women at all because of the ‘risk’, or exclude them from career development opportunities such as events and business dinner.

As the group lamented, if the response to #MeToo and reports of sexual inappropriateness in the industry is to limit women’s opportunities further, it hasn’t even begun to cause the culture shift that is needed. That excluding women altogether from job opportunities or events is even mooted as a solution is deeply concerning. All too often the burden is passed to victims to either tolerate the behaviour or accept a space is not for them because of the behaviour, rather than challenging the behaviour itself. This needs to be tackled as broader concern.

The Precipice of Change

However, the positive is that people now feel they can speak more freely about what has happened to them, and there is no going back from that.

Participants at the American Bar Association Annual Meeting event this month agreed, with co-founder of Time’s Up Legal Defence Fund Tina Tchen saying: “we are at an inflection point where we can shift what is going on in our workplaces.”

It is important to not view the issue of sexual harassment in isolation, the ABA president and chair of the panel Hilarie Bass  said: “What we are really talking about is building workplace cultures that are very diverse and very inclusive in every sense of the word. And that we are equipping managers and workers at law firms how to treat each other better in order to change the way workplaces operate.” And there have been moves in many organisation to make ‘say something do something’ a part of workplace policies and training, making everyone responsible for inclusivity and wellbeing. Secrecy and innuendo allowed Harvey Weinstein to get away with what he did for a long time, so a culture of openness needs to nurtured. We can’t simply rely on victims to tell their stories; those who are unaffected have to be vigilant and willing to challenge wrongdoing openly.

Panellist Nicole VanderDoes expands on the discussion in the Legal Network On The Road podcast. Her advice to people entering the profession or who have experienced troubling behaviour is to check what procedures and reporting mechanisms have been set up in their organisation for dealing with uncomfortable behaviour and misconduct. She also reminds us that those who might prefer to take the route of excluding women further to avoid the issue are also legally liable for this kind of discrimination too.

In others words, all in the industry must keep the conversation going, and leaders must continue to listen and to implement tangible measures against harassment and discrimination, to ensure we don’t see statistics like these again in 2019.

Women in Law

Are female leaders in professional services still heavily outnumbered? That seems to be the conclusion of a slew of recent reports, which have found that management consultancies and other professional services are still haemorrhaging female talent at senior levels.

This is also an all too familiar picture in the legal industry. Women lawyers and consultants are still leaving the profession early or are being overlooked for promotions. In an ongoing study on women in the legal industry in Ireland, the author refers to the long hours culture that has become more widespread in the last 20 years preventing career progression, not just for Irish women lawyers but in the industry as a whole.

The New York Times also describes a ‘bleak picture‘ for women trying to rise up in American law firms, based on the 2017 Law360 Glass Ceiling report. While smaller law firms perform slightly better with the percentage of female lawyers obtaining partnership/equity partnership, the average number remains around the 20% mark, barely rising from results from the previous year. There are some examples of individual success stories, but the lack of overall progress is startling, especially considering the focus there has been on improving gender and diversity within law firms in recent years.

And the problems go beyond the fight to get to the top – female partners where they exist are earning 24% less, according to a survey commissioned by legal recruiter Major, Lindsey and Africa, with average annual compensation for a female law firm partner at £502,841 compared with £667,521 for their male peers.

So how can we ensure that organisations worldwide can hold onto and develop female talent into leadership roles? From the studies, we’ve highlighted the 5 points of change that employers in the legal industry need to make to create more female leaders:

1. Stop Dismissing the ‘Big’ Issues as Being Outside of One’s Control

Wider societal obstacles to female leadership, such as the lack of fathers taking up paternity leave, are of course not solely the concern of firms and consultancies. However, inroads can be made towards changing these patterns by more employers actively promoting flexible working and shared parenting policies for all. Societal norms can only be challenged and changed with positive actions from power holding stakeholders, and employers have a great deal of power to be a catalyst for change within their industries and can help lead the way for society at large. More often than not it is not societal attitudes that are the problem – many people would share the carer burden if they could, but too often the responsibility falls on women as they face obstacles in their professional development, leaving families with little other choice.

2. Incentivise Flexible Working Policies for all Employees

It’s a point we’ve touched on before but it bears repeating – flexible working shouldn’t just be seen as a problem solver for special cases – it should be an innovation driver that is actively encouraged in the workplace. Large corporate firms such as Lloyds Banking Group and Cisco have cited productivity improvements as a direct result of flexible working practices, and they are not alone. Shutting out valuable talent and experience due to long and rigid office hours makes increasingly less sense as technology and methods of communication and data sharing progress. Organisations both large and small need to take a proactive approach to encouraging people to work differently, to keep up with the competition.

3. Work to Ensure a Predictable Workload

It’s not always about flexibility or less hours in the office for female professionals – often the problem for those trying to balance caring responsibilities is the simple need for a more predictable work schedule, with advanced notice on travel and meeting requirements. This requires an empathetic and collaborative approach with clients to manage expectations and set regular boundaries for work hours, allowing people to plan childcare and other home arrangements. The attitude that only those who are able to drop everything at short notice are the ones that deserve senior positions needs to die out – everyone, regardless of gender, has a personal life that they value and there should be more emphasis on making the most of the talent available and suiting their needs, rather than expecting everyone to fit inside an increasingly narrower box.

4. Place Higher Value on Different Role Options

This leads us to our next point of focus – the idea that part time working or shared roles are indicative of a lack of desire to move forward. Progression should not be impossible in these circumstances. One of the suggestions that Source Global Research gives to help retain female talent is to place higher value on part time workers, give them more wide ranging responsibilities and client facing work to allow them to continue their career trajectory. This approach would also ensure that part time workers are respected amongst their colleagues and peers, changing the culture of the workplace and showing others that there is always another path to take, instead of feeling that their only option is to leave as life responsibilities change.

5. Stop Measuring Performance Solely on Revenue

Most growing organisations are broadening their focus in performance reviews beyond simply how much money a department is raking in. For as long as we measure individual performance and productivity solely on revenue, we overlook the value that a strong leader can bring to the whole organisation. Leadership skills that help employees develop in their personal goals, that create a more communicative and healthy work environment, a different background of experience that enables the organisation to become more outward looking – these are all important qualities that ensure long term growth and gains. Leaders within an organisation are part of a much bigger picture than % profits, and the more diverse the leadership is, the more value they can bring.

These, and many other detailed recommendations for encouraging more female leadership are not revolutionary and have been discussed time and time again. There needs to be more openness to change. Professional services must adapt their practices to retain vital talent, as new generations place higher value on work that works for them.

Women in Law

What do most people picture when they think of what a women lawyer wears? If we go by popular culture, a super sharp black skirt suit with a luxuriously alluring white blouse usually comes to mind. How well this reflects reality is up for debate, but workwear for women in law has historically been something of a battle ground, and remains an unnecessary stress point for women in law today.

Workwear for Women Lawyers: Then and Now

As reported by this First 100 Year’s post, the fight for women’s suffrage, women’s fashion in turn began to emulate traditionally male styles, with sober suits included as a symbol of the new independent woman. However, the legal industry was still always one step behind, and until recently even the sight of a woman lawyer in trousers was considered risqué!

Today, as the wider office culture becomes more casual, with the suit more often reserved for high level meetings, how has the legal industry adapted its dress expectations, if at all?

Thankfully attitudes to women wearing trousers have mostly relaxed, but women in the corporate and professional setting still face additional societal judgement on their performance and leadership based on what they are wearing and how they present themselves. Only last month, a study found that people judged women who wore more makeup as having weaker leadership skills. At the same time, the sober suit that was once adopted by women to signify their liberation, has evolved into the uniform of the stifled, stuffy corporate identity.

The Pressure to Conform

Lawyers as a whole are spending an incredible amount of time and money on workwear. The high spend however does not necessarily mean that workwear for women in law is being treated as an enjoyable indulgence – in fact quite the opposite. There is the suggestion that many lawyers do not find it easy to dress themselves for work, spending an excessive amount of time – up to three months of the year – deciding what to wear, and are viewing sartorial choices for work as a stress point. There are two sides to the issue: law is typically seen as high paid, particularly in practice, and there is pressure to conform to high standards of dress for all genders and levels of employment. However, at the same time, there are wider culture changes with more allowances made for individuality in the workplace. Smart casual is that dreaded catch-all term that means different things to different people, so navigating expectations can become even more of a minefield even though the dress code is in fact ‘relaxing.’ Add to that the additional scrutiny that women face on how they present themselves, and workwear for women in law can become a real drain on mental energy, as well as the pocket.

Female Lawyer Workwear: A Fashion Expert’s View

How have fashion observers seen attitudes to workwear trends in law evolve? We talk to fashion expert Emilie Chanteloup, co-founder of digital magazine Imaginealady.com, who tells us what she is seeing in women’s approaches to workwear in the corporate and professional workplace.

“In people’s minds, the professional workwear dress code is typically a suit,” says Emilie, “and jackets are must-haves in any situation. But the question now is: is the suit really essential for a conventional client meeting?”

Then there is the question of colour. “Black, grey or navy are used by all women struggling with the ‘what to wear’ dilemma every morning,” Emilie observes. “Dark colours, base suits and white tops; are often how you can describe a workwear outfit in a law firm. Sometimes, they may attempt to go a bit out there by wearing a polka dot or cream shirt and get comments on how they look ‘different’. However positive or negative the comment can be, it’s still a comment and it can easily bring down a woman’s confidence. That may sound extreme, but the reality is in our Imaginealady street fashion stories, most of the female workers from law firms I meet mention the fact that the weekend is the time where they take back their freedom and allow colour into their outfits.”

What of the money being spent on work clothes? “Each week, 5 days out of 7, those women are having wardrobe frustrations because of the social pressure in their work environments. When Vogue, Elle and other fashion magazines talk about the last workwear trends and how to follow it, lawyers and women working at law firms are not even allowed to wear a bright yellow silk shirt with their black suit, creating a big gap between magazines and real life. So, how can you spend such a crazy amount of money without being a fashion follower? The answer is simple: the money goes on expensive pieces. Suits can cost nearly £600 with alterations or far more if they’re tailored. This is then justified as it gives people more confidence to wear an expensive brand suit. If nobody starts the workwear revolution, in 20 years from now, the workwear will still be described as the boring uniform to look like all your colleagues, while still spending a fortune. Wearing something is all about showing a part of who you are and who you want to be. So why hide your identity at work?”

Emilie touches on a very good point. In an industry where women still feel the need to work that little bit harder to be taken as seriously as their male peers, something as slight as the colour of their shirt is often seen as a risk to their professional identity. Female lawyers may find themselves dressing to make themselves more invisible to avoid unjust scrutiny of their presence and appropriateness in the workplace. This reality differs greatly from the broadly held view in the fashion world that traditional professional dress codes are on the way out.

Changing The Approach to Workwear

Dressing for work should be a more enjoyable part of our working routine, not another stress point. When you put on an outfit, it should be an easy decision that enhances your mood and prepares you for work; the clothes you wear should represent you as an individual, the pride you take in your work and what you hope to accomplish during that day.

Marianna Ferro, CEO of Flair Atelier online fashion tailoring portal, agrees. “It is difficult to generalise, women tend to be less aligned than they used to be when it comes to workwear. It’s safe to say that women working in creative sectors tend to go for bolder option, while others working in more formal office as banks or law firms tend to purchase updated versions of the classic little black dress. What is definitely happening is that women more and more are leaving behind the grey and dark blue formal suits at work and they are less intimidated about showing their feminine side. The trends we see are all about keeping it professional, without losing your identity. Whether it’s a classic cut in an unexpected colour, or a statement piece to complete a formal look, workwear is now a mix of confidence and comfort: crease-free fabrics, well-considered cuts, overall quality that make you feel great throughout the day so you can keep your focus on achieving, and not just appearing.”

The Bottom Line

Our choice of what to wear has never been broader, but many women lawyers are still expected to fit into a very narrow box of expectations. There is nothing wrong with one or two nice suits, but it can no longer be held up as the defining feature of a lawyer’s wardrobe. As women are becoming more ever-present and visible in the higher echelons of the legal profession, we can hope that more individuality and indeed, colour, will follow, as women lawyers are no longer judged as a category but on their individual identities and merits. There are enough pressures on our shoulders. The less time we are forced to spend worrying about what to wear, the better for all.

Making Work, Work

There has been a major shift in focus on workplace culture for both new and established companies. Culture is the catch all buzz-word to cover everything from office features to ethos. It is a widely welcome trend, as it places higher importance on employee happiness and sense of belonging in the workplace. However, there may be a problem emerging in terms of diversity. In particular, culture may be the reason that older, more experienced workers are being overlooked for roles. One phrase that seems to have become an alternative way of saying ‘you are too old for us’ is ‘not a good culture fit’.

The wrong approach to culture means recruitment becomes a search for people who look like themselves, generally people of similar backgrounds around the same age as them, and could also end up masking discrimination based on age, gender, race and sexual orientation. A lack of gender and racial diversity in an organisation usually raises alarm bells fairly quickly, and rightly so. However, there is a risk that ‘ageism’ can become an ‘acceptable’ form of discrimination in the workplace. On the one hand, we are being told that age is nothing but a number, and we are living and working longer. On the other hand, attitudes in recruitment are slower to catch up. With more people taking career breaks, building portfolio careers and deviating from that traditional linear career path, it’s a problem acutely felt by lawyers who have many years of PQE. A role that would have traditionally been taken at an earlier stage in a traditional linear career is now being sought by anyone who is looking to diversify their experience and work in a different way.

As we live longer and work longer we are seeing more generations working together than ever before. Add to that the rapid technological advancement of companies, there may be a tendency to look for younger recruits who are of the digital generation. A fifth of employees surveyed across Europe by ADP cited age as the biggest barrier to their career progression, with older people feeling particularly isolated. There is also a suggestion that this impacts women more than men, according to research from Tulane University.

As our Agony Aunt has previously discussed, a rigid approach to PQE creates barriers for both young and old. Someone who falls short of the magic number of years PQE because they took a career break, but has amassed valuable transferable skills during that time is more likely be overlooked. Likewise, someone who is looking to change their work patterns and ‘side step’ into a role requiring less experienced is looked at sceptically for being ‘overqualified.’ This coded language of too senior for a role, or the culture fit is wrong really indicates the belief that the person is too old and may be a threat in some way. Technology advancement has allowed us to take more control over our working lives, and employees and employers alike support the virtues of flexible work and non-traditional career paths. Yet when it comes to a number on a CV, it seems age is still used in the old fashioned way as a measure of experience and a person’s value to a company.

If employers value their working culture, they should value individual richness of experience. As we move away from focusing on the hours clocked in at the office, at the same time we should no longer be reducing people to the number of years they have on the clock. A greater mix of generations does create new challenges, but with open communication they can be dispelled. The benefits of shared life experience, a range of insights and perspectives far outweigh those challenges.