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Flexible working arrangements in the legal sector – what private practice is offering

19 Oct 2018

Michael Minogue

A career in law can be very rewarding but it doesn’t come without hard work. The pressures of the role and the demands of clients who are, in a lot of scenarios outside of the jurisdiction and time zone, can mean long hours in the office. The desire for the elusive ‘work/life balance’ is a big motivator for the majority of solicitors who get in contact with Brightwater and a big factor as to why so many solicitors look to make a move away from private practice and into in-house roles.

The buzz phrase at the moment for professionals when job searching or even during an annual review is ‘flexible working arrangements’. This is not reduced working hours per se. Being a solicitor is not a 9am – 5pm job but what it does mean is that law firms can accommodate “working smarter” while still maintaining the high standards of work expected by clients.  In some cases this can mean flexi-time, working from home or assistance in other areas to make solicitors’ work life that little less stressful.

There is a difference in opinion between the old school view that “solicitors should be in the office Monday – Friday” and the new school (millennial if you will) approach that flexible working arrangements such as working from home can work and needs to happen for sustained legal careers. It is a work in progress.

Many of the larger corporate law firms are moving in the direction of offering flexible working arrangements, facilitating solicitors to be able to work from home and providing them with the infrastructure to do this. While law firms here are a bit behind the London model, they are definitely going in the right direction with many of the top 10 firms in Ireland offering the ability to work from home on a one day per week basis and more in some cases, which up until a few years’ ago would not have been possible.

Gender diversity in the legal profession requires more flexibility

Ireland is the first country in the world to achieve gender balance in the profession. As of January 2018, 52% of solicitors in Ireland are female and it is predicted that this number will continue to rise. While this statistic is both welcomed and celebrated, it also means that maternity benefits and work life balance for working mothers have become more important issues.

Maternity benefits vary from firm to firm with some offering full pay, others offering part cover (50% of full pay and upwards) and other firms offering it on a sliding scale depending on length of service. Maternity benefit generally kicks in once the standard 6 months’ probationary period is passed.  Some top tier law firms are offering maternity coaching services for solicitors. This involves reduced fee targets in the run up to going on maternity leave and reduced targets in the months when they come back from maternity leave. They also offer the service of an external coach who can talk them through what to expect as a new working mother which can be invaluable for someone who is going into motherhood and working life for the first time.

Flexible working arrangements that are currently in place with many of the leading corporate firms offer flexi time for solicitors who may need to come into the office or leave the office early. This is not exclusive to parents and can be applied across the board to make solicitors’ lives outside of the office that bit more manageable.

New perks being offered

As competition increases in the recruitment of top talent, law firms are coming up with new and unique offerings in their remuneration packages. A recent perk that is now being offered is a sabbatical leave, a once off paid leave offered to solicitors in the firm. This has been welcomed in the market as a great perk especially at the age profile of solicitors at that level and a last chance of solicitors to go get rid of the long haul travelling bug before they settle down to life, marriage and mortgages!

Michael Minogue is Manager of Brightwater’s Legal division and works with many of the country’s top legal firms as well as placing legal professionals in-house.