Employers need to do more than just pay lip service to flexible working in order for everyone to truly benefit from it, says Sarah Taylor, the author of a new report called Valuing Our Lawyers: The untapped potential of flexible working in the New Zealand legal profession.
Ms Taylor investigated flexible working in the legal profession after receiving a scholarship from the In-house Lawyers Association of New Zealand (ILANZ) – a section of the New Zealand Law Society.
Ms Taylor says the importance of lawyers’ lives outside of work needs to be recognised and employers need to set up an environment and culture “that supports flexible working regardless of gender, age, role, level or reason”.
The study looks at flexible working in the legal profession, with a focus on in-house lawyers. It looks at why people want (or need) to work flexibly, how many people are doing it, the benefits and challenges of it, and how to make it work. It also looks at different legal services models and ways to “harness a largely untapped talent pool”.
What is flexible working?
Flexible working can take many forms. It could be working part-time, working remotely, job-sharing, working flexi-hours, or working a fixed-term contract.
Ms Taylor said a lot of lawyers she interviewed work in permanent, full-time positions but on a flexible basis – so, maybe working from home one day a week, or staring late on certain days. “Many interviewees emphasised that flexible working, for them, was not about working less hard or less hours, but about having some autonomy about when, where or how they work. They did not mind working long hours or sometimes working in the evenings or weekends if it meant they had the ability to balance other important things in their life: to go to piano lessons on a Tuesday morning or pick up their kids from school on Thursday afternoons.”
Who is affected?
It’s not just a working mum issue, Ms Taylor says, instead it is relevant to men and women of all ages and roles, regardless of whether they have children.
“I interviewed men and women from all around New Zealand, some with kids, some without, from a range of positions, areas of expertise, and different levels of experience, in-house lawyers from the public and private sectors, and private practice lawyers.”
A desire for better work/life balance is one of the main reasons people want more flexibility in their working lives. “Lawyers, in particular often struggle to achieve a good balance. Failure to do so can lead to a myriad of problems and great lawyers leaving the profession.”
While Ms Taylor is a big fan of flexible working, she acknowledges that not everyone views it positively. “There is a voice for more traditional ways of working and flexible working has its challenges. These views and challenges are presented in my report.”