There has never been a better opportunity for law firms to deviate from being traditional, old-fashioned employers. The recent appointment of Linklaters’ first female senior partner in its 183-year history is a clear indication of progress, but there is still much more to be done.
Historically, firms have been notorious for long hours, business formal dress codes and hard-driving and competitive work environments, not to mention a poor record for gender parity. Fortunately, major law firms are gradually implementing flexible work options, and realising that associates don’t have to commute to the office to be effective.
This trend started long before the pandemic when female lawyers faced criticism for requesting flexible work options and demanding better work-life balance. The stigma attached to remote working resulted in a long-standing issue with the loss of female lawyers after they had children, which ultimately led to a significant gender diversity issue. The scepticism about remote and flexible working negatively impacted law firm culture, with presenteeism seen as indicative of contribution.
Law firms are now finally embracing remote work. Initially, the challenge for law firms was discovering a way to maximise employee productivity without forfeiting the important benefits of mentoring, training, teamwork and client service that generally require physical presence. Paradoxically, it is now a popular option at top law firms nationwide, with recognised benefits including improvements to employee productivity, engagement, and quality of client services.
Above all, a major benefit of flexible working is that it improves valuable diversity. Flexible working opens the legal sector up to a broader range of people, which is critical for access to new clients. Increased diversity provides a wide array of opinions, perspectives and experiences required for problem solving; to prevent and solve problems, clients need their lawyers to collaborate with other lawyers and business professionals from different backgrounds, industries and locations. What’s more, flexible working improves firm culture – it increases job satisfaction and employee productivity.
Many lawyers consider flexible working to be a major plus when considering a lateral move and consequently it’s vital that law firms are representative of the desires and needs of its employees. As firms move from informal to formal remote work arrangements, many are working to ensure that lawyers have the technology they need to do their jobs as efficiently as they would in the office. It’s a positive development and one that deserves the same level of commitment as any other change.
Ann Offomata, managing director, Major Lindsey & Africa