"I have been a solicitor for 15 years. During my career I have worked for a sole practitioner, in house, in small firms, (who later merged to become much bigger entities) and in an extremely large, international law firm. Regardless of a law firm’s size there can often be common factors, loss of female workforce post family and an uphill struggle for those seeking more flexible working.
Successful, flexible working in a professional environment is not a myth! Many have found it challenging but with perseverance to find the right fit you can achieve that elusive balance that we are all looking for – I have!
When you are a junior lawyer, often without family of your own, it is expected that you will work full time and in the office and often long hours leaving little balance or time for anything else. I was happy to do this in the early part of my career as I was trying to climb the greasy pole to promotion and make a name for myself and without a family to rush home for I could stay late etc.
Then the family arrived…….I didn’t want to work all hours when I could be with them. More importantly I couldn’t as we had no local family and nurseries shut when nurseries shut!
I still wanted to do interesting, challenging work and not waste my many years of study and experience.
The challenge when you make the decision to cut your hours, work remotely, job share or however you now want to work is getting decision makers on board.
Law firms are especially hot on having flexible working policies, after all - they know what they are legally required to provide in this respect. However, when you try to implement those policies there is often ‘a business case’ to say no. A caveat written into those policies which firms can rely on to refuse your request. So, how do you overcome this? It’s about having the tenacity to push back against what you are offered, be flexible yourself rather than demanding a specific day off etc or, if you have to have that day off then explain why with reasoned, fact based argument rather than impassioned pleas. It may well be that you cannot find a nursery space for Mondays but without this information a rigid request is likely to be seen as unreasonable.
Quid pro quo…..if you give a little, it is to be hoped that so will your employer.
Ultimately, if you cannot change mind-sets where you are working it may be time to be brave and try elsewhere. You have to know when to stop trying to swim against the tide! I moved to Temple Bright LLP after a break from the law whilst I considered if I could make the work-life balance happen for me as a solicitor. Working as part of a firm with a chambers model (self-employed senior lawyers working whenever, however and wherever they want) has saved my legal career! Now I choose to work mostly from home, using the office space for networking and client meetings etc. I have busy weeks/months then quieter periods when I can choose to focus on the family/other ventures like being President of Bristol Law Society."
Top tips, based on my experience;
- Be specific about what you want from your time at work
- Be flexible about how to achieve this whilst bearing in mind your employer’s viewpoint
- Use examples of when it has worked well (from within your firm if possible) and know when you should walk away