Good Work/Life Balances and the Legal Profession – are they compatible?
I recently noticed an article online by one of our competitors (Douglas Scott) about work/life balances in the legal profession and how average hours worked have dropped dramatically since 2014. There is talk of agile working conditions, hot desks, plus Magic Circle firm Clifford Chance have an on-site gym and pool, a restaurant, delicatessen and coffee bar, televisions in their social areas and a wellness centre. The article notes that “these benefits encourage staff to really take advantage of their down time, or conduct informal meetings with colleagues to allow them time away from their desks”.
Personally I suspect that the reason Clifford Chance have a swimming pool and gym is to enable their fee earners to bill even more time. If I pop out of the office at lunchtime to go to my gym for a swim then firstly I’ve got to leave the office, secondly I have to walk to the gym and thirdly I might get tempted to spend 20 mins after my workout strolling around Canary Wharf. Instead of that I presumably can jump in the lift, get changed, swim up and down, run on the running machine, lift a few weights and be back in the office billing hours before you can say Bobs your Uncle.
The legal profession is pretty notorious for working very set hours and this has never changed, although we have seen seismic changes in recruitment of older generations of solicitors (although usually on short term contracts or locum arrangements) and an acceptance that women really do have to leave the office to give birth and may want to spend more than 2 weeks at home looking after their new offspring. I haven’t seen much evidence of a widespread shift to home working in 16 years of legal recruitment. Hours worked have varied widely in my experience – commercial law firm solicitors plus partners of all practices seem to do the most hours, and assistant solicitors in high street firms seem to do the least. Of course salaries usually reflect this.
The traditional pattern of work has not altered either at the majority of solicitors’ practices, despite larger firms outsourcing work to offshore processing centres or opening offices where salaries are lower. Ten-Percent owns a transcription company as well, imaginatively called TP Transcriptions. We started out attempting to persuade law firms of the benefits of outsourcing certain secretarial functions (eg police station interviews and similarly tedious and boring bits of audio work). We finished up specialising mainly in academic transcription work, with a lot of our ongoing contracts being from universities across Europe. We still do legal work but it tends to be very sporadic, unlike the academic orders. Law firms remain comfortable having secretaries to deal with certain types of work, deal with clients and generally maintain the existing fabric of the practice.
Maybe this will all change in due course? A recent report claimed that robots will soon take over a lot of legal work. No doubt they can do the same for recruitment consultants…
Jonathan Fagan is MD of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment and regularly writes and commentates on the legal profession, the legal job markets and legal recruitment. To contact him please email firstname.lastname@example.org