The growing trend of flexible and agile working in the legal sector

You may have seen our recent blog on the growing trend of “northshoring” within the legal sector. While it certainly is the case that more firms are choosing to base at least part of their operations away from the capital, some are choosing to revamp their existing offering, as Berwin Leighton Paisners (BLP) imminent office consolidation highlights.

The firm is choosing to unite its two London-based teams, relocating its employees in St Magnus House to the larger base at Adelaide House by the end of 2016. The reason behind this move is an interesting one. While BLP offers agile working to its workforce in the capital, it’s not yet as readily available as it is in its Manchester office, with requests having to be balanced against the business’ needs. A BLP spokesperson suggested that following the move there “would be an increased opportunity for more flexible working” which would include “initiatives already being embraced by our lawyers across different practice groups.”

The idea of undertaking a large-scale, and probably stressful, office move solely for the reason of encouraging more flexible working would have been scoffed at a matter of years ago, but really it highlights the growth in demand for this type of employment. Working on an agile basis has grown hugely in popularity, partly from demand from millennials, but also because it fits in with professionals’ increasingly busy personal lives. Offering this sort of benefit to staff means that those who do have family commitments, which would prevent them from working traditionally, may stay with a firm when they have previously been forced to leave.

However, it’s not just the younger generations or returning mothers, for example, that can benefit. As BLP managing partner Lisa Mayhew, has outlined, agile working appeals to a much wider range of people and can even help the firm to attract professionals that it previously may not have been able to lure. “When we first started part of the proposition was that you can come and work flexibly in our Manchester office. We do have very experienced lawyers and paralegals there, but it suits their personal circumstances to work different hours in a different way. We have people working from home and people working flexible hours. We found it brought people through the door that we would usually not get. We found that (agile working) has been a successful part of bringing people through the door and keeping them.”

Many of you reading this may be shaking your heads wondering how anything gets done at firms that do offer flexible working. After all, aren’t those professionals working from home simply lying on the sofa sporadically checking emails and simply pretending to look busy? In actual fact, it could aid productivity. A recent report by UK think tank, The Smith Institute, suggests that ‘presenteeism’ should be a thing of the past and that in fact, professionals that do work longer hours in the office aren’t being as effective as they once were. And if this strategy can aid staff retention as well as attracting new pools of talent and potentially driving greater productivity, wouldn’t it be in other legal firms’ best interests to adopt a similar approach?

Do you think more legal firms will adopt flexible or agile working?