Flexible and agile working environments are transforming the way businesses work. Benefits include contented and more productive employees, as well as reduced costs. Law firms haven't traditionally embraced this flexible approach to the work-life balance. So, how can law firms adapt to take advantage of this trend - and why should they? As we will see below, lawyers make ideal candidates for flexible working and firms can make significant cost savings as well as bolstering their equality credentials by introducing agile working environments for their fee earners.
What is flexible working?
Since 2014, all employees have had the right to officially request flexible working arrangements from their employer. But what does flexible working actually mean? Traditionally, this was seen largely in terms of flexi-time; the option to start work later and finish later. As the workplace culture changed to take greater account of parenting and equality, more types of flexible working emerged, such as compressed hours, annualised hours and job sharing. Part-time self-employment has also seen significant gains over recent years.
But the ability to choose when to work is only half of the flexible working equation; the more revolutionary half - which is still viewed with trepidation by many employers - is the ability to choose where to work. Of course not all types of work can be carried out remotely but, in the services-based economy of the UK, many professionals are able to fulfil their employment duties from any location, as long as they have their laptop, mobile and a WiFi connection.
Technology is the bedrock of successful flexible working
Employees need to be able to access all the tools required to carry out their jobs, whether they are in the office, at home or in a coffee bar. But legacy on-premise IT systems often lack the functionality required for remote working or are not always reliable or secure.
Cloud computing can provide a robust solution for businesses wishing to adopt agile working practices, using reliable cloud servers based in dedicated facilities. All the regular software tools, including the practice management system and CRM, can be hosted in the cloud and made available to users, no matter where they are. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) generally goes hand in hand with cloud computing and further streamlines the flexible working experience.
Why is flexible working suitable for lawyers?
Client meetings and court appearances aside, lawyers are generally able to carry out their work from any location at any time, making them the ideal candidates for truly flexible working, also known as agile working. Much of the core work of lawyers involves communication, research, administration and critical thinking - tasks which do not generally require any specific physical presence.
Furthermore, although billable hours are still the norm, legal work is primarily results-focused. The ability for legal professionals to work autonomously to achieve a set of outcomes is something which also lends itself to the flexible working ethos. As experts call for firms to introduce alternative billing arrangements, this results-based approach, where questions of time and location are largely irrelevant, is set to grow.
What are the benefits of flexible working for law firms?
Implementing flexible working policies, in conjunction with embracing cloud computing, can free up valuable office space, allowing law firms to make significant savings on office rents, particularly in London which has some of the highest rates in the world.
Offering flexible working to staff can also serve to boost employee morale, attract new talent and retain valuable members of staff. Additionally, it can improve equality by enabling employees who are considering a career break to start a family - or who have other caring responsibilities - to continue working flexibly from home.
Many forward-thinking law firms have already adopted flexible working or are planning to do so. Recently, it was reported that Schillings is rolling out an agile working programme in the UK, under which its lawyers are encouraged to work just two days a week in the office. Other big players which have announced agile working schemes include Dentons, Linklaters, Herbert Smith Freehills and DAC Beachcroft.
Watch this space for more blogs and podcasts from CenturyLink discussing emerging legal technology trends. To find out how we can help your firm with agile working and other IT requirements, please contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org