Before recently having a baby myself, I found it hard to sympathise with candidates who were looking for a flexible working arrangement. I’d worked long hours for years, lingering in the office sending that one last email that just couldn’t wait until the morning, checking my blackberry at evenings and weekends without even really thinking about it. How things change. I’ve recently returned from maternity leave, probably the one person in the office no one could really expect to have a baby, let alone need flexibility to look after him! I now sympathise enormously with working mums and dads out there who value their career more than anything, but for the first time have found something that comes before sitting at a desk 24/7. But how can working as a lawyer or in a legal environment really be conducive to having a family? It can, I promise you, it’s just about finding the right Firm and culture for you to achieve that all important balance.
For the last few years the Manchester and wider UK legal market has seen a huge upturn in work. The transactional market is particularly busy and excellent quality work is out there, with corporate, commercial, banking and real estate lawyers becoming under pressure with more work and a difficulty finding skilled lawyers to add to their teams. With such busy market conditions confidence is high, but there is a price to pay – long hours have become the norm and achieving a work-life balance can often be an uphill task. However, do not despair. At last firms are starting to realise that they need to adapt their working patterns to be able to attract the best lawyers in the market. They simply cannot lose out on talented lawyers, even if that means offering flexible working arrangements to those who need it for childcare or simply a home arrangement personal to them that is too important to give up.
In the last 12 months we are still seeing lawyers moving from large national firms to smaller firms where they can chase that elusive work-life balance while retaining good quality work, or moving in-house for a culture that can often mean more autonomy and flexibility. However, the big firms are changing their ways. They cannot lose these lawyers and are starting to offer more flexible arrangements, which coupled with top tier quality work and market leading salaries can be a wonderful combination. Large national firms are more willing than ever to look at part time working, the offer of a day or more working remotely, or the flexibility to at last let an established lawyer manage their own day. One firm has even launched a team of home based real estate lawyers, working full or part time entirely from home, simply meeting in the office once a month to regroup and share ideas. It is working fantastically and has meant that the firm has been able to attract lawyers from a much wider pool.
So I work 4 days a week now, finishing at 5pm to pick my baby up from nursery. I can’t say it’s easy, or that I don’t feel like I’m constantly dashing from one place to the next, but BCL support my work pattern entirely as they do many people within the business. We have consultants who work part time, from home or flexibly and still achieve over and above expectations of the business. It’s just about finding the firm and environment that embraces it rather than sees it as a negative. Long hours are no longer the mark of success or a badge of honour, everyone has a home situation unique to them and it’s about finding the right balance. My only advice to anyone looking to work more flexibly is be efficient, super efficient with your time. With more to fit into fewer hours, focus is the key to success.