Implementing a flexible work “policy” is largely a waste of time unless you give the idea a chance to thrive.
These days, many law firms have paid lip service to the desire for greater flexibility on the part of their lawyers.
But often, lip service is as far as it goes.
Firms might have a “flexible work policy” but, in truth, nobody in that office has actually attempted to use it.
Why is that? I don’t think it’s because nobody wants flexible work hours. I think it’s because the firm doesn’t really want you to. If they did, they’d get these things done.
Systems, Systems, Systems
Flexible work can actually be fairly difficult to manage. Not because it’s overly complicated, but just because there are a few variables you need to take into account.
If the firm doesn’t have a well known and understood system for allowing flexible work arrangements to flourish, then they probably won’t.
On top of the basics (hours, pay etc) at the very least you need to cover:
- how will support staff communicate your office hours to clients?
- what expectations are on you in terms of service delivery?
- what technology requirements need to be considered?
- what internal meetings are you expected to attend – can they be attended remotely?
- what marketing burden do you have – are you expected at networking functions or presentations?
- how will you receive instructions from the office?
- how will your boss give your work feedback (eg – if your boss is a red pen kind of person, that’s cumbersome if you work from home mostly)?
In client service the biggest question is this: how is the quality of your service going to be maintained?
In most cases it’s not that hard for one person to do. However, because you work with other people, they need to be on board with the plan. And often that’s where the wheels come off, because person A likes to work person A’s way, and person B likes to work differently.
It’s not just the work arrangements that need to be flexible – it’s the people too.
Working full time as a lawyer is simply the norm in many firms – it’s the culture.
The truth is that flexible work in many firms is viewed as a consolation prize. “Oh – you’re not quite up to full time work yet, huh? How about you try flexible work instead for a while, at least until things are back on track”.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure the fact that I don’t want to spend 60 hours in the office and have other things to do in life renders me a second rate citizen.
Sure – for some people flexible work is a temporary arrangement. But that doesn’t make it a backup plan. It’s a season, and one which should be enjoyed rather than one you should feel guilty about.
If your firm genuinely wants to embrace flexible work as part and parcel, then we’ve got to redefine what “normal” is. As it stands, normal is to turn up to work every day, work until you drop, go home and sleep, then do it again.
For some people – normal sucks.
One of the best ways to do this is to encourage/allow your senior staff to have flexible work arrangements. If your firm is going to say that it encourages flexible work as part of its culture, then why is it that not a single partner in your firm is part-time? Yes – even Bruce who has 15 children and a wife who runs a business from home, is in the office at 6am and leaves at 8pm.
Because that’s normal. It’s expected. It’s all Bruce knows how to do, and Bruce doesn’t want to be the first one to “break the rules”.
Promotions and Pay
This is a challenging area.
On the one hand, I don’t subscribe to the view that two 10 years PAE lawyers have the same experience, if Lawyer A took 5 years off to meditate in Tibet, and Lawyer B did not.
On the other hand, Lawyer A might still be a superior lawyer.
Although it’s a topic for another day in more detail, we’ve got to start thinking outside the box more when it comes to promotions and pay.
Blind Freddy knows that most law firms still adopt a myopic process that considers these:
- what do our competitors pay?
- how many years PAE is this lawyer?
- how much, and at what rate, can they bill?
- what’s the least we can pay them and have them not leave?
Not surprisingly, most lawyers are fairly career oriented. Yes – they want to have their cake and eat it too.
Although some firms take exception to that, it’s the truth. Some lawyers want to have BOTH flexible work arrangements AND a career path. But at the same time, if the unspoken rule is that going down a flexible path is a death knell for your career, then why would they take that risk?
And if they’re excellent lawyers, serve your clients well and make your firm money – why should you care?
If your firm wants to genuinely embrace flexible work, then you need to build – from the ground up – a brand new way of considering how promotions and pay are going to function.
There are Plenty More
These are the big ticket items, but frankly there are a lot of moving pieces in the flexible work equation.
What do you think? Have you tried flexible work arrangements? Did it work or not?