Who Is Going Flexible?
Flexible legal labor is the workforce of the future. Analysts at Indeed.com reported that job searches for flexible work increased by 58 percent between 2014 and 2016. HR Technologist, a leading source for online HR news, identified greater labor flexibility as one of the leading workplace trends of 2017.
Baby boomers working after retirement are major contributors to this trend. Nearly a quarter of employed 55- to 75-year-olds were in alternative work arrangements in 2015. However, they are not the only ones agitating for flexible work options.
Many millennials are also unmotivated by the 24/7 work culture and have made it clear they place a higher value on being able to work irregular hours for a better work-life balance, according to Deloitte. This is particularly true among young lawyers, who opt for consulting positions where they can work on their own schedules, even if it sacrifices a regular paycheck.
Advances in technology also contribute to the growing popularity of a flexible workforce. According to HR Technologist, “mobile is the way ahead for work.” Smartphones and tablets are make us more mobile, creating the opportunity for an always-on-the-move workforce. Combined with flexible work options, mobile technology is making virtual collaboration and telecommuting as efficient – if not more so – as working in-office for many professions, including law.
Law firms are among the employers joining the flexible workforce bandwagon. In a survey conducted by the Diversity and Flexibility Alliance published earlier this year, 26 of the 28 Big Law firms surveyed indicated they had formal flexible work policies. Fifteen of the firms offered telecommuting as part of their flex policy, making it one of the most common alternative work schedule options.
Flexible work schedules aren’t only for the junior staff, either. Leadership in 12 of the 28 firms surveyed included lawyers working reduced hours and flexible schedules. Half of those same major firms reported having promoted at least one flexible schedule lawyer to partner in 2015. This was twice as many flexible lawyer promotions as had been seen in 2014, suggesting flexible work schedules are becoming more popular at all levels of the workforce.
The flexible legal market is a global phenomenon with major law firms such as Allen & Overy adding flexible work platforms to their business ventures. The platform, named Peerpoint, was launched in the UK in 2013 and has since been expanded to Australia, Hong Kong, and Singapore. Eversheds Sutherland has a similar platform known as Agile, which they expanded into Hong Kong and Singapore just last year.
In the United States, the flexible legal workforce trend has been led by small and medium-sized firms which can adopt new policies easier, but larger firms are increasingly beginning to take part. Earlier this year, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius implemented a work-from-home policy for its U.S. and U.K. associates. The firm initially tested the telecommute policy in Los Angeles, where 100 employees opted to participate. Close on the heels of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius are Jackson Lewis and Baker Mackenzie, both of whom have implemented telecommute policies for their associates as well.
To make flexible work more efficient, some of these legal firms have incorporated job share arrangements into their platforms. One lawyer may work on a case three days of the week with another taking the lead the remaining two days. This prevents the need for a part-time lawyer to be on call during off days. While not new – some firms have had such policies in place for decades – job share policies are making a flexible legal market easier than ever. Lawyers are able to work on their own time, making them both more productive and more content with their lives. Law firms striving to keep both their clients and attorneys happy are finding flexible work schedules to satisfy both needs without hurting the firm’s overall bottom line.
While 10 years ago workplace flexibility was found primarily in small- and medium-sized firms, larger firms are now adopting formal flexible work policies as well. Likewise, more lawyers, particularly among the Millennial generation, are taking advantage of non-traditional work schedules.
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