As much as I love the legal profession and all of it’s quirks, I think most will admit that flexibility, in the past has generally been frowned upon. By flexibility, I mean part-time hours, condensed hours and working from home. Pre-COVID, there was a common feeling that you MUST be in the office in order to manage your case load, and the expectation to be on call (in the office) for clients during the normal 9 to 5, Monday to Friday was a must.
COVID, although clearly causing many hardships and most sadly of course loss of life, has brought with it, some positive changes. In the legal profession (and other sectors), it has demonstrated that employees can and have succeeded in delivering the same level of client satisfaction and in many cases performance from Fee Earners and support staff has actually increased. IT systems, where they have not been modern, have had to be revolutionised and paper-based systems and files are, in many cases, being transferred to compliant and effective case management systems. It has also been proved that sickness levels have reduced and many staff report feeling stronger in terms of their mental health from being able to work from home.
Now as we move back into the “normal world” and firms are seeing their staff return to offices, I have been having various conversations with HR Managers and Managing Partners about what they should do moving forwards.
I think that many candidates (and current employees) are requesting flexibility from their employer, and in some cases where flexibility is not being offered, employees are leaving to find it elsewhere. That said, it also goes the other way and I have spoken to some candidates who are leaving their current employer in search of a firm which offers more of a “team atmosphere”.
So what should law firms do? How can you attract and retain talent? How can you support and develop your junior members of staff when your Partners and senior Fee Earners wish to work from home most of the week?
I think the short answer is simple – ask your staff what they want! And listen.
However, the delivery of this can be quite different. Of course it depends on your firm’s setup (which can sometimes be complicated in Partnerships), and even more so, breaking this down into individual teams and recognising both strengths and weaknesses as well as technical ability and training/support/supervision requirements. Of course, there is also a large consideration to equal rights and ensuring that staff are all treated fairly!
As we move forwards, I think firms need to be absolutely certain about the culture they are looking to achieve, and this of course comes under the headline “branding”. Once this is identified, it can be clearly communicated to the staff but also blasted far and wide into the market. If you get this right, attracting new talent is easy, and a clear brand helps to motivate current staff as it brings belonging and pride.
I don’t think there is necessarily a hard and fast rule about how much home working you should or shouldn’t offer your staff, however what is key is that firms should give serious consideration to offering some flexibility.