Case Study: Flexible Working in law

Tamsin James

27 July 2017

Our first case study during our spotlight on the legal profession, is Tamsin James, an employment law solicitor at Watkins Solicitors. Tamsin has had a career in the legal profession that spans over 15 years. Below she shares her excellent insight on how she makes it work and tips for anyone looking to work flexibly in law;

"Shortly after I returned to work after my first child was born, I was asked to appear on BBC news to discuss the new “right to request flexible working”. Over 15 years ago, it was unusual for a City employment lawyer, as I was, to “work flexibly” (I had returned 4 days a week).

I recall that my argument (that this would encourage dialogue between employer and employee and that this was a good thing) was met with derision by the person brought in to argue against me. It turns out I was right. Flexible working is now part of the workplace dialogue and it is a good thing.

I am still practising as an employment lawyer and working flexibly 15 years on, although with 3 children and all the complexities that go with that. I have worked in a number of different ways: 3 or 4 days per week for a law firm, as a freelance trainer and lecturer, for a Law Centre. 

The first lesson that I have learnt is that there is no “one size fits all” answer to flexible working. What works best at one stage may not work for another: a baby can more easily be consoled by someone paid to do so than a teenager who is having difficulties at secondary school.

It is also important to be brave and know your worth. I left an organisation because I felt it had an unimaginative culture around flexible working. It felt like a huge leap at the time, but I quickly found other work where my contribution was valued and I could grow and develop. 

I now work for a smaller law firm with a supportive environment. It specialises in family law and special educational needs, so supporting families are at the heart of what we do. I act for individuals, many of whom are experiencing difficulties balancing work and family life, so having personal experience helps. 

I work a minimum number of hours per week. As my work has peaks and troughs, I am simply paid for any additional hours that I work, which is a simple and flexible solution. I manage my own workload. I can also work remotely (we have a paperless office) - I have found working at home to be really effective.

Balancing clients and family life can be exhausting. I am more realistic now. In the past, I would not give myself enough time. Some of my clients have complex and difficult issues; it is important that I look after myself, so that I can support them. For the last 5 years, my husband (also a busy lawyer) has worked at home 1 day a week too, so that I can have a whole day without domestic responsibilities. This works well for me, for him and for the kids too."

Thanks so much to Tamsin for this insight into her work. We are working with law firms in Bristol who want to hear from experienced lawyers wanting flexibility, get in touch - contact@flexology.co.uk