Flexible/Agile working across law firms in the North West

Flexible, Agile Working

Traditionally law firms across the North West have hired solicitors to work full time from the office, without offering much leeway for flexible or agile working conditions.

With a shortage of strong candidates within certain buoyant practice areas, MJN Legal investigates the changing trends in London and summarises if this is becoming more common in across the North West.


The rising trend in hiring flexible staff

The reality is that flexible working arrangements are becoming significantly more attractive to a wide variety of solicitors, regardless of age, gender, or parental status. As a result of this shift in attitude, more law firms are beginning to recognise that they will be less able to retain talent and maintain a competitive advantage without the implementation of successful flexible work arrangements.

More than a quarter of the lawyers employed by the Government Legal Department (359 out of 1,253) work part-time, including job shares. Treasury Solicitor Jonathan Jones encourages applications from people at all levels of seniority who want to work flexibly. All internal postings take account of individual working patterns.

For Lewis Silkin, supporting non-standard hours is deemed healthy and crucial for the firm. A third of its 120-strong employment division work part-time, and the reason for this is outlined by Employment Partner, Russell Brimelow, who says, “Our starting point is that we have masses of talent in the ‘working mum’ population who want to maintain their careers but may not be able to work full-time.”

Last year, in a bid to offer more flexible career options for associates, Linklaters trialled the ‘YourLink’ career path for German associates in which they received 80,000 euros in their first year, compared to the 120,000 euros offered in the regular career path. Lawyers who signed up to the program worked a 40 hour week with exact clock in times.

In recent years, more law firms have begun to realise that although clients may want their solicitors to be available to them, they largely support rather than disapprove of flexible work arrangements. Once they have put in the time to locate talented and competent solicitors, and develop strong relationships with them, many clients would rather accommodate flexible working arrangements rather than lose talented employees.

Firms are also realising that the cost of losing a talented solicitor is much greater than the additional overhead costs that come with employing and retaining part-time legal professionals. It’s common knowledge that replacing talent is time-consuming and forces the firm’s permanent staff to take time away from their main responsibilities to interview and recruit prospective employees. Moreover, the damage to client relationships can be irreparable if solicitors with strong client relationships end up leaving the firm due to an employer not agreeing to flexible working requests.


Agile working conditions

In the last decade flexible working has become about far more than merely a way of holding on to skilled staff. Instead, firms are now under pressure to compete on this type of benefit.

Many report that entry-level candidates, both female and male are asking about firms’ policies. As Alison Unsted, HR diversity manager at Hogan Lovells, says: ‘People, especially in our more junior ranks, are coming to us with an expectation of agility.’

At Farrer & Co, director of HR Suzanne Hulls says: ‘We recognise the value that flexible working can add, in terms of attracting new recruits, increasing employee engagement and retention, and enhancing client service.’

Big four accountancy offshoot PwC Legal, partner Ed Stacey notes: ‘As we have pushed the opportunities for flexible working, we have seen the retention rates of our best people increase and our staff survey results have also improved.’

Reed Smith also announced last year that they released a new agile working scheme in which lawyers will be free to decide when and whether to come to the office. Personnel will be allowed to meet their goals ‘where, when and how they see fit’, London managing partner Andrew Jenkinson said.


The bottom line

In short, I think it’s safe to say that the benefits of allowing legal staff to work part time hours or remotely from home far outweigh the misconception that flexible working conditions minimise productivity and results. Thanks to technology, more organisations are understanding that it is less costly for their employees to work flexibly.

Having successfully assisted several solicitors over the past 18 months with moves in which they were able to work genuine part-time hours with agile working conditions, it’s clear that North West firms are changing for the better.

I am currently recruiting for several clients looking for corporate, real estate, construction, litigation and banking solicitors with flexible working conditions in the North West. If you have family commitments, a lengthy commute or are interested in part-time or agile working, please contact me on 0161 759 4690 / michael.niven@mjnlegal.co.uk