Are flexible working hours and a law career mutually exclusive? Not anymore.

As an aspiring lawyer, you may not have considered flexible working hours - given the corporate intensity of the legal sector, you might not even know that it is an option. But flexibility is now trickling its way through the legal world and is a possibility at some of the biggest law firms. Matthew Kay is the director at Vario, Pinsent Masons’ flexible working initiative. He writes about how flexibility could be a defining factor for the legal industry as it evolves. 

  • Last updated Feb 10, 2018 4:36:02 PM
  • Matthew Kay, Director of Vario from Pinsent Masons
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Image courtesy of Matthew Kay

In 2050 will we still see as many lawyers working away in their offices, enduring the daily commute? Or could we see the large-scale impacts of the flexible working revolution - lawyers working from peaceful co-working spaces, parks or their own smart homes, for example? Some might scoff at the thought that law, one of the most traditional and venerable of all professions, could be modernised to such a degree. But believe it - in this modern world of working differently, the legal profession is adapting just as quickly as other industries, and it doesn’t have much to do with robot lawyers (although that is happening).

In this supply and demand economy, it’s no surprise that the popularity of contract lawyering has risen in recent years as a response to business need. As the changeable economy and factors like Brexit apply pressure, some companies have found that a constant in-house legal team is either unaffordable or just not needed. Alternatively, a business may find they have natural peaks and troughs related to legal work. This is where the gig economy and a contract lawyer can be a great asset – they parachute into a business and can work for as long as needed – usually, our lawyers are on assignment for six to 18 months, but this can vary.  

This increasing need from businesses for more flexibility has fitted hand in hand with a slew of lawyers looking to work in a different way. Many lawyers are keen to join the 5 million other British workers engaged with the gig economy and for lawyers at least, many find that working as a freelancer helps rebalance their work-life and approach their legal work in an altogether different way. Indeed, some of our contract lawyers keep their career alongside running a business or living abroad – the possibilities are endless!

This way of working is also becoming increasingly attractive to newly qualified lawyers, or those with five years or less PQE. The traditional route to partnership through private practice is not the only way to have a fulfilling legal career and many younger lawyers appreciate the variety of experience and flexibility which contract lawyering offers.

Many people assume the gig economy’s main draw is the flexibility it offers. However, in a survey we conducted recently we discovered that the main reason why contract lawyering appeals is the variety of work it offers. Working on assignment means lawyers get lots of opportunities to work for different types of businesses – from a not-for-profit to a big corporate. For newly-qualified lawyers, this can be a great opportunity to get legal experience in different companies and sectors, on a variety of interesting projects.  

Working flexibly allows many of our contract lawyers to pursue extensive hobbies or run businesses in addition to their legal work too. One of our Varios runs a ski business, working in the summer months as a contract lawyer to support this seasonal company. Another lawyer pairs her work as a Vario with creating an online magazine that focuses on mindful law.

However, as you might imagine, being a successful contract lawyer isn’t quite as easy as strapping on a Deliveroo backpack and jumping on a bike may be. In addition to excellent legal skill, an individual does have to hone further, specific skills, which may not be as important in private practice.

For instance, when working for a client, a contract lawyer will often be expected to perform from day one and slot into a team. Therefore, the so-called ‘soft skills’ can’t be underestimated – a chat around the coffee machine about weekend plans can help foster team-working more quickly. At Vario, we give all new recruits a personality test which focuses on questions around motivations, preferences and behaviours. We then work hard to match the right lawyer to the right job – strong legal skills are of course important, but we find personality is equally vital for a successful contract relationship. It’s all about providing the best possible fit of lawyer so they can hit the ground running from day one.

In summary, the gig economy revolution is certainly not just for food deliveries and taxis – and it’s likely that by 2050, the legal world of work will have evolved even more.

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