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Flexible working post-lockdown in the legal sector

As law firms adjust to the relaxation of restrictions, it would be wise to consider how a permanent flexible working policy could benefit their lawyers and legal professionals, writes Paul Garth.

user iconPaul Garth 15 February 2022 Big Law
Paul Garth
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NSW breathed a collective sigh of relief last week after it was announced borders would reopen and restrictions would be relaxed. Although there are trepidations ahead of the winter season, the legal sector has been cautiously planning how to reopen their offices for the benefit of staff and clients. From 1 March, working-from-home rules will be eased and what will be on many firms’ minds is whether they will adopt flexible working on a more permanent basis.

The Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) reported in June last year there had been a 25 per cent increase – during a period when lockdown had eased – in the number of Australians working from home, compared to pre-COVID levels. For many of us, the various lockdowns have allowed us to tap into what our work/life balance should look like, and it’s clear more Australian employees are enjoying working from home.


So expecting employees to return five days a week (if that was your policy before the pandemic) is unrealistic and, at worst, detrimental to your business prospects and talent retention. We’ve seen hesitancy around this in other countries – a UK government study found that 85 per cent of employees would prefer to work in a more “hybrid” manner in future – i.e. a mixture of working from the office and home. 

Indeed, each time a chief executive announces they want staff back in five days a week, they’ve been met with derision and criticism, especially as EY recently found that over half of workers would quit their job if they weren’t given flexibility. As demand for legal advice throughout the pandemic has remained high in Australia, many will be frustrated as to why they can’t work on a flexible basis more permanently when they’ve proven they can be just as productive working from home.

Flexible working isn’t a new thing to the legal sector, and firms such as Pinsent Masons adopted an agile working policy years before the pandemic. However, for some firms that are considering making agile working permanent in their business, this will be new territory, and it is important for staff to be actively involved in forming and enforcing it too. In the first stages of planning, it’s worth:

  • Running a survey with staff. Find out from employees what their ideal working week would look like following the lockdown, and offer suggestions to gauge attitudes. It’s also important to ask why people want to work from home more – i.e. is it because working from home means they can spend more time with family with no commute? Understand the reasons why so you can make an informed decision before you impose a policy that could lead you to lose talented staff.
  • Considering your office space and contract – depending on the results of the staff survey, it may be worth renegotiating your lease or downsizing your office space (if an option) to account for more people working remotely beyond the pandemic but still have a central hub where people can meet and collaborate.
  • Bouncing ideas off other leaders and senior professionals to gather different perspectives on flexible working and how it could benefit your law firm.
  • Addressing concerns for those who are worried a very flexible policy could mean no face-to-face time and development opportunities with colleagues. Consider remote training platforms  we’ve created Vario Advance, an online training suite that supports our flexible professionals to keep up with their CPD remotely  and social events (within current government guidelines).
  • Speaking with legal providers that offer fully flexible models, too, to understand how they operate. Lawyers and clients should negotiate days and working hours that benefit both parties.
As law firms adjust to the relaxation of rules in NSW, it would be wise to consider how a permanent flexible working policy could benefit their lawyers and legal professionals – working remotely is here to stay, and if law firms ignore it, they will lose talent to competitors that allow it.

Paul Garth is an account director at Pinsent Masons Vario.

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