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Agile working for law firms – is it working for you?

agile working for law firmsA great deal of lip service has been paid to agile working for law firms but has any of it really been turned into action?

Many other industries have bought-in to the mantra. It allows businesses to empower employees and give them flexibility. However, the UK legal profession still lags behind.

So, let’s take a look at some of the practical benefits of the idea.

Benefits for people.

These are obvious. Agile or flexible working arrangements provide the following advantages:

  • The flexibility to meet family needs, personal obligations, and life responsibilities conveniently. If you have a flexible schedule, you can go to a parent-teacher meeting during the day or be home when the washing machine repair person comes.
  • It reduces consumption of employee commuting time and fuel costs. In some areas, commutes of more than an hour each way are not uncommon. If these employees are allowed to work from home, that saves two hours of time and fuel costs.
  • It avoids traffic and the stresses of commuting during rush hours. We all know how much faster a commute can be if you have to be in the office at 10:00 instead of 8:00.
  • An increased feeling of personal control over schedule and work environment. Allowing employees to determine their own schedule and environment, reduces employee burnout due to overload. Flexibility means employees can take a break when they need it without incurring the wrath of a boss.
  • It allows people to work when they accomplish most, feel freshest, and enjoy working (eg. morning person vs. night person). Many managers feel that early birds are hard workers and night owls are slackers. There’s no evidence that that is the case—it’s simply cultural.
  • Depending on the flexible work schedule chosen, you may decrease external childcare hours and costs. If a couple both have flexible schedules, the benefits increase dramatically.

Benefits for law firms.

With flexible /agile work schedules, employers experience these benefits:

  • Increased employee morale, engagement, and commitment to the organisation.
  • Reduced absenteeism and tardiness.
  • Increased ability to recruit outstanding employees.
  • Reduced turnover of valued staff.
  • Extended hours of operation for departments that require it.
  • Development of an image as an employer of choice with family friendly, flexible work schedules.
  • Reduced overheads.

There are also key organisational challenges you need to address to make flexible work schedules support your business. In and of themselves, as a positive benefit for employees, flexible work schedules support employee engagement, positive morale, and retention. But, flexible work schedules must operate to meet the needs of the business, too.

Buying in.

George Bisnoughtagile working for law firms of successful virtual firm, Excello Law describes the move to agile working in stark terms. He describes the mindset change as: “allowing lawyers complete freedom and choice to work when, where and how they wish.’

George goes on to suggest that the focus of the firm changes to: ‘delivery of high levels of customer service, ensuring direct access to senior lawyers and providing better value for money and outcomes.’ That’s a sea change from the 9 to 5 and time sheets approach.

Making it work.

The technology to make agile working a success has been with us for some time now. It’s simply a question of how you go about it.

There are many in the profession who believe adoption of a more agile philosophy may be a great challenge and take time to prove its worth. The real challenge is based upon two very simple factors. Firstly, understanding the benefits for employees and the business. Secondly, and most importantly, embracing the idea whole-heartedly. Half-way house, piecemeal approaches are unlikely to succeed.

Mike O’Donnell, November 2018.

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