Flexible Working and Fee Earners: What Next for the Legal Market?

Posted June 18 2021 By Kirsty McFarlane
 Flexible working and agile working have very much become the mots du jour over the past year. So many sectors, typically bound to desks and city centre offices, have reveled in the ability to work from home. Many have found that – since the technology enables them to do so – that there isn’t too much of a rush to return to the commute and office hours. Over the past year, we have learned to work around home schooling, care responsibilities, family life and otherwise strenuous circumstances. We have foregone our client lunches, our packed trains and our catch up over a coffee in the office. Many businesses have been much more accommodating and understanding of their employees and their needs. In fact, we have become so used to home working and working flexibly, that there have been increasing cries (on social media and news outlets) for permanent remote working or, indeed, four day working weeks to allow employees in all walks of life to enjoy greater flexibility in a post-pandemic world. How feasible, then, is such a proposal in the world of law? Particularly so where litigators must appear in court or fee earners have outputs and targets that are inextricably linked to the number of hours they work? As to be expected, tech giants such as Spotify, Google and Twitter promptly announced last year that their new hiring policies meant candidates could now work from anywhere in the world and still be part of a team that’s based, say, in California. Many business journalists have noted that such flexible hiring policies will do wonders for diversity and inclusion – particularly amongst the disabled, working parents and those who simply can’t afford to live and work in big cities. There is much to be lauded about such policies. But are they something that sounds nice, in theory, proving more difficult in practice? That certainly could be the case in the Legal world. With the average fee earner billing around 1,600 hours per month, that doesn’t appear to leave a lot of room for flexibility. How do you practice flexible working when your clients’ demands mean that you must set up meetings or calls within office hours? Moreover, litigators can’t exactly dictate to the court system when and where they would like to schedule an appearance. Neither can much needed office employees, such as receptionists, who are client facing for the vast majority of the working week. Will this highly anticipated, new, flexible world of work actually cause resentment and divisions amongst those who simply cannot ‘work from anywhere’? A recent article in the HR Director observes, “Research by Timewise shows that only 8.7 per cent of all job vacancies, where the salary exceeds £20,000 a year, offer some element of flexibility. In the legal sector, the problem is even more acute: the figure is just 3 per cent. At the same time, Timewise found that 14.1 million workers – 46 percent of all UK employees – want to have some flexibility at work in their hours or location.” Whilst home working remains the norm for many in the Legal profession at the time of writing this blog, a gradual return to the office is expected for most firms. Quite how they will continue to offer varying layers of flexibility in a manner that is relatively fair for all remains to be seen. If you would like to speak to me about sourcing high calibre candidates for your law firm, click here to drop me an email and get in touch.
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