I wish it could be Christmas every day. Hmmm, much as I like a lot that goes with the festival, that’s not quite true.
But it has caused me to reflect on the way we work around this time of year – which in many cases is somewhat flexibly. People who work full-time leave early for children’s school concerts, team lunches are accommodated, and Christmas shopping is fitted around work commitments.
And yet, is less being done? On individual days the answer may be ‘yes’ – but there are also plenty of deadlines being met by lawyers in the run-up to Christmas. There’s a rush to exchange or complete on house purchases. Even the faceless power of raw capitalism places its deadlines (M&As, IPOs and so on) either side of the holidays – with investment bankers, bookrunners, and venture capitalists working around the school holidays.
I find this interesting because flexible working is something the legal profession often struggles with. Sure it exists – but the price paid by those who secure flexible working arrangements seems to be fairly heavy. This was clear from recent research conducted by law firm Fletcher Day, reported in the Gazette last month.
Law firms, ran the conclusions, accept flexible working arrangements reluctantly and requests to work flexibly are made with the expectation that the arrangement will be poorly supported and will damage a lawyer’s career. As asserted in another story from the same issue of the Gazette, the feeling that law firms pay ‘lip service’ to flexible working arrangements in their policies is fairly widespread.
And yet 88% would like to see law firms become more accommodating to flexible working relationships.
What’s different about Christmas is that the need to accommodate other considerations is accepted – tone from the top, where the top may have their own needs for flexibility, and sanction the jollity.
Under-working is hardly a problem in the legal profession – quite the opposite. And I suspect that deadlines missed through the enhanced attention paid to gaiety are few and far between.
The Fletcher Day research concluded that to overcome the widespread perception that flexible working can potentially lead to career disadvantages, law firms need to set out a meaningful promise – a ‘flexible working covenant’ that includes promises on better project management, adequate IT support, job security and fair treatment on quality of work handed out.
In other words, institutionalising and blessing the arrangements. I find that a fairly compelling argument – and if you’re not won over by it (bah-humbug), I’d reflect on whether you let clients down this month.
I suspect you didn’t – which rather says to me that things could be a little different the rest of the year too.
Eduardo Reyes is Gazette features editor