Work-life balance: Do you need to move firms, or can you have the best of both worlds?

Matthew Kay, director of Vario for Pinsent Masons, offers further insight into the ways that lawyers can work flexibly in the 2019 career landscape.

  • Last updated Aug 13, 2019 1:15:29 PM
  • Matthew Kay

“Could I work from the beach instead?”—Last month’s heatwave will have had plenty of people questioning whether they enjoy working in the office, as commuters sweltered on the tube and struggled through the day beneath poorly-functioning air-conditioning units. But, weather aside, recent stats have shown that a number of lawyers are thinking of changing the way they work. 

A large proportion of respondents to the LexisNexis survey said they were open to considering working for a small or solo outfit in their next role. Not only that, but in July a ‘flexible working bill’ was raised in parliament which, if passed, will mean UK employers have to offer flexible working to staff in their contracts by default, without staff having to request it themselves.

Signs like these suggest we’re in the middle of a sea-change in public attitudes to working, and it’s one that isn’t showing signs of slowing down. Because of this, lawyers are realising more and more that they have the freedom to mould their careers in a way they simply couldn’t previously. They also have the force of a cultural movement behind them, making it easier than ever to pluck up the courage to do something different.  

If this resonates with you, and you’re looking for a new way of working, “contract lawyering” may be an interesting option to look at. As anyone in the UK today (particularly in London) will know, the gig economy has had a massive impact that’s changed the face of our workforce drastically. What may not be so immediately clear is how it has reached over into the legal sector. New opportunities have opened up for lawyers and the prospect of contract lawyering has become a viable and often attractive reality for many in the profession.

Far from forcing lawyers down a “lone wolf” path, contract lawyering is a model of work that’s offered by many of the UK’s top firms. This means that lawyers who go down this road can still maintain the backing of a top outfit. They not only gain more variety and flexibility from working as a contractor, but retain the resources, expertise and brand of the firm they are contracting for. It can lead to a real win-win scenario when done properly and begs the question: why leave your job behind when you could potentially have the best of both worlds?

Another attractive quality of contract lawyering is the varied, interesting casework it leads to. Often, businesses will require a freelance lawyer because of some kind of crisis. The crisis often leads to the client’s in-house team being put under a massive amount of pressure, and means they need a specialist who can come onto the case immediately to help. As a contractor, this basically means you get parachuted into a high-value and complex case. This can be a major draw for legal professionals looking to get more experience.

So, while many lawyers may be thinking of leaving their firm and doing away with the partnership model for good, it might not work for others. If you’re looking for change, there are ways you can continue to enjoy the best of both worlds without sacrificing your current benefits, and it’s important that lawyers understand that. Working from home, secondments and sabbaticals are being offered more and more, so lawyers who want a change may want to sit down with their employer and discuss the options available to them. In today’s world, the work-life balance of lawyers is high on the agenda. Your conversations with work now are more likely to bear fruit than ever before.

In short, UK business really is at an inflection point. It’s one that has opened up exciting opportunities for professions that have historically only had one or two viable tracks. Law is no different. Whether it comes to sitting down with your boss to explore options around flexible working, or giving something like contract lawyering a spin, now is the best time to try something new. 

Matthew Kay is Managing Director of Vario for Pinsent Masons.


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