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Flexible Firms

Progressive, forward-thinking, advanced. Are these words you might attribute to law firms? No, me neither. For me, appropriate adjectives might be ‘‘traditional, conservative and conventional’. Having said that, law firms are changing their approach in the way they work for their clients and in the way they employ people in order to compete in a tougher market.

For example, since the recession kicked in many of the larger law firms had to overhaul the way they work for and charge clients. Gone are the good old days where a team of lawyers would turn up for a client meeting with the lead partner leading, a senior associate ready to advise on the less high brow issues, a couple of juniors lawyers writing notes and a trainee who is ‘training’ but with the common theme that they are all charging for their time.

When I was a paralegal in the city some years ago, I attended a minor court hearing on a big case I was working on along with the rest of the team, which was huge. My job was to carry a couple of boxes in at the start (the height of my career) and then to sit there for the duration in case anything needed photocopying. Unfortunately there was a fire drill halfway through so the parties agreed to move the hearing to a conference room at one of the barrister’s chambers. The whole entourage along with the judge and the other party’s lawyers moved to the Chambers. I then had a new job – to pour the judge’s tea. I made a huge faux pas and put the milk in first which didn’t go down well with the judge which in turn didn’t go down well with the lead partner. I think that lost me a training contract but every cloud and all that – I ended up training in Swindon. The whole team put down all their time for the duration of the abandoned hearing, the moving fiasco and the resumed hearing resulting in a bill for tens of thousands of pounds. These days, most clients wouldn’t stand for that and expect value for money and more cost effective legal advice. But that is all old news now.

What I want to focus on in this blog is flexible and part time working. Whilst I appreciate this isn’t an avant garde notion or a particularly sexy topic (like E disclosure and big data which people can’t seem to get enough of at the moment), I feel law firms are making progress on this front in order to attract and retain good lawyers. I can’t say that that’s the situation for all law firms or for all roles. Some firms or even some partners of some firms will doggedly stick to the full time, office based mantra, deeming it essential that the work is performed in this manner. But more and more law firms appear to have grappled with the concept of flexible working and have come to realise that it’s a way of attracting good candidates that otherwise wouldn’t be interested.

This change in attitude towards flexible working is particularly prevalent for hard to fill jobs such as roles in procurement, construction, commercial property, IT/IP or sector specific. Law firms are becoming increasingly desperate to recruit in these candidate short areas and will now consider flexible working arrangements that would ordinarily be outside their comfort zones in order to attract good lawyers.

Three and four day weeks are becoming more commonplace as are late starts, early finishes or condensed hours in order to work around the lawyer’s personal commitments. Home working is also more ‘de rigueur’ these days. I have recently been working with a client that is considering a 100% remote working arrangement where the lawyer will work from their new home – in New York!

This change in attitude is excellent news for lawyers. The tables are turning and lawyers have more power to secure roles that work for them and their lives rather than being dictated by tradition.

For more information about roles with flexibility in Bristol, please contact Georgina Inson or visit our website BCL Legal.

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