What if a summer holiday could last forever? Law and flexible working

Matthew Kay, director of Vario at Pinsent Masons, talks through email-answering etiquette while on holiday, and explains why it is possible to have flexible working hours as a lawyer. 

  • Last updated Aug 22, 2018 10:39:54 AM
  • Matthew Kay, Director of Vario from Pinsent Masons

For some lawyers, who are expected to be on call while sunbathing on the beach, a relaxing summer holiday is an alien concept.

It’s not just the legal sector: recent figures from LinkedIn reveal that a huge majority of British people (84 per cent) respond to work emails on holiday. Others fear that they’ll be missing something important if they don’t check their emails, and the prospect of returning to 3,000 unread messages is just too much to bear.

Holidays are a chance to unwind, but a culture prevails in many firms that favours presenteeism and an expectation that emails will be checked on a break. For a newly qualified lawyer, eager to make a positive first impression, this might feel normal and what is required to achieve career progression.

So what can be done? Firstly, it’s important to talk about expectations with your line manager. Often, the culture around working on holiday and checking emails out-of-hours is assumed and not directly addressed – lawyers pick up these habits just because they see senior colleagues doing the same. And of course, the balance is different for everyone. Some people may feel very comfortable having their work phone for emergencies, whereas other people will find that more stressful.

Fortunately, there seems to be a change in people’s attitudes towards checking emails on holiday and out-of-hours. Last year, French workers won the legal right to disconnect, with larger organisations required to encourage employees to ignore their smartphones out of hours. The Royal Mail general counsel Maaike de Bie recently said that she doesn't email colleagues after 7pm or over the weekend unless the matter is urgent. She believes that this has created a more considerate culture.

All the same, holiday time can prompt some lawyers towards considering a career change. Sometimes, people fall in love with the pace of another country’s day-to-day life, or they find their downtime has sparked an entrepreneurial idea. This it’s not just a pipe dream – having a legal career doesn’t mean having to follow the traditional path.

We see a real surge in lawyers considering contracting around this time of year, for all of these reasons: they want to work differently, with more flexibility, and it’s even possible to live abroad while working as a contract lawyer.

Vario was created with this in mind. Ruth, UK-qualified, lives between Italy and Scotland, working remotely for Vario. Another one, Henry, runs an adventure sailing business while also working as a contract lawyer. He says, “Working in this way allows me to dip in and out of well-paid contracts as I’ve been building up my business. Sailing has always been my absolute passion, and now I can pursue this while maintaining the level of financial stability my young family needs. A four-month contract provides a cushion that allows me to focus on the business for six months.”

At this time of year, the focus on a healthy work-life balance can become more intense, and a holiday can help you revaluate what's important in life. Don’t ignore that urge to do things a bit differently – explore the options that are out there for lawyers.

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