Lawyers are among the top 50 business leaders who work part time.

The reasons for leaving private practice to move in-house are many and compelling, including a desire to have a better work-life balance.

So the legal profession should feel proud that not only did lawyers make up a fifth of the top 50 business leaders who work part time, in this year’s Power Part Time List, but the number was split evenly between those in private practice and those working in-house.

Does this mean private practice has fully embraced flexible working? Perhaps not yet.

Why else, for instance, would some firms feel the need to set themselves female partnership targets?

When it comes to flexible working, many would argue in-house leads the way. ‘Sky has been very supportive of flexible working, particularly our general counsel, James Conyers, who recognises that flexibility allows him to retain talent he would otherwise lose,’ says Power Part Time List winner Catherine West, Sky’s director of legal (content, commercial and joint ventures), who works three-and-a-half days a week.

West’s team is the largest legal team within Sky, and manages legal relationships with the BBC, Disney and HBO among others, and is responsible for wholesaling Sky’s channels to other platforms - contractual relationships generating revenue of more than £400m annually.

‘I manage to work on complicated transactions and issues by being flexible and shifting my hours to respond to the needs of the business, and also by having a great team.’

West recently supported the first man within her team to move to part-time work so that he could take on more responsibilities at home.

‘It requires creativity and organisation to have a team which has a quarter of people working part-time, but the benefits of having those people are worth it,’ she says.

‘In my experience, part-time employees are very engaged, loyal and committed.’

But if in-house is leading the way, private practice is making efforts to catch up.

Power Part Time List winner Sarah Parkhouse returned to Linklaters as managing associate following a seven-year career break to raise her young family. Within three years, she was promoted to counsel and subsequently made equity partner – all while working part time. 

‘When I rejoined, it was on the basis of reduced hours, and the particular partner who agreed it was very supportive, and we all tried hard to make it work,’ she recalls.

‘I’m not sure I had expectations rather than a determination that we really ought to be able to make it work, and we have.’

Parkhouse is a partner in the firm’s financial regulation group, working on a 90% arrangement. Another partner in the team works on an 80% arrangement, and a number of lawyers work 3-4 days. The group has also successfully piloted a job share between two senior lawyers.

‘It is true that client demands can make this challenging,’ Parkhouse says, ‘but many of our clients also work flexibly or on a part-time basis and I have always found them very supportive.’

Law Society research has shown that firms who adopt flexible-working practices attract the best talent. The winners of the Power Part Time List show that it is possible to stand, flexibly, on the higher rungs of the career ladder. Let’s aim to get more private practice lawyers alongside their in-house counterparts on next year’s list.

Monidipa Fouzder is a Gazette reporter