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Lawyers paying a heavy price for flexible working

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Some 88% of lawyers would like to see law firms become more accommodating to flexible working relationships, and 66% believe that their non-lawyer contacts have more flexible arrangements in the workplace than lawyers, according to a controlled study of lawyers at commercial law firms conducted by law firm Fletcher Day.

The study also found that:

  • By a ratio of more than 3 to 1, lawyers believe that taking up flexible working arrangements ‘could potentially affect career progression in the future’.
  • Asked to choose which aspects of their working life were most important, lawyers in this study said that job security was the lead choice – with 34% rating it ‘extremely important’. There was also a very strong showing for the flexibility of working relationships (28% rating it ‘extremely important’) and quality of work (23% rating it ‘extremely important’).
  • 86% of lawyers in the study do not agree with the statement that law firms provide lawyers with ‘adequate scope for flexible working relationships’.

Jude Fletcher, senior partner of Fletcher Day, commented: ‘There is a dissonance between skilled individuals’ hunger to gain better control over their working patterns, and the ability of law firms to offer its staff that measure of control – in order to win their loyalty, retain their industry skills, and respect their professional and commercial judgement.’ He added: ‘Flexible working is a request that, in too many cases, is made with hesitation and agreed to with reluctance. As one lawyer puts it later on in this paper, too often a flexible working request is seen as “career suicide”.

‘To overcome this widespread perception that flexible working can potentially lead to career disadvantages, Fletcher Day now believes that law firms need to set out a meaningful promise – a ‘flexible working covenant’ to which the firm can be held accountable. A flexible working covenant would involve law firms addressing key areas raised by the findings of this study, and detailing specifically how such a covenant might work in their organisation.’

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