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‘Onus on the employee’ to make shorter weeks work

Lawyers who have the option of practising in non-traditional time frames — such as four-day weeks or nine-day fortnights — are getting “a pretty good deal”, and it is, therefore, incumbent upon those professionals to ensure they repay the faith of their employers.

user iconJerome Doraisamy 12 August 2022 Big Law
‘Onus on the employee’ to make shorter weeks work
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Last week, national plaintiff firm Shine Lawyers unveiled its new nine-day fortnight option for staff, via which professionals can compress their fortnightly hours into a nine-day cycle.

It follows the news that Coutts Lawyers & Conveyancers — which last year won the Diversity Law Firm of the Year category at the Women in Law Awards — was introducing a four-day week option for staff across its eight offices in NSW.

Speaking about the firm’s rollout of the policy, Coutts managing partner Adriana Care and partner Karena Nicholls said, “it works for us”.


“Depending on your business structure and the ability of your senior team it would affect what would work in your business. The nine-day fortnight is a step in the right direction, but for us, we believe in such a fast-paced profession our four-day week supports our team and their wellbeing,” the pair said.

The four-day working week is, of course, not a new idea — last year, Lawyers Weekly published a feature exploring whether now is the time for such truncated working weeks for Australia’s legal profession.  

Staff need to make such arrangements successful

Reflecting on the potential mainstreaming of such non-traditional working weeks, FMRC director Sam Coupland said that pandemic-inspired lockdowns, and subsequent WFH solutions that were implemented, “proved what many knew was possible, but didn’t want to be the first ones out the gate to implement”.

Moreover, he added, the last two years have demonstrated that a “significant majority” of clients can be serviced by way of remote and flexible working arrangements.

A number of firms, Mr Coupland detailed, explored “the 100-90-80 approach”, whereby lawyers will receive 100 per cent of their salary, deliver 90 per cent of their current budget and work 80 per cent of their standard time.

“The key component here is the 90 per cent of the budget which will be rigorously monitored and enforced. Most firms have WIP write-downs of 15 per cent, so if this can improve so their realisation is lifted from 85 per cent to 90 per cent, then they are in front,” he said.

“The onus falls on the lawyer to deliver on what is a pretty good deal.”

The nine-day fortnight is similar, Mr Coupland continued, in that “the onus falls on the employee to make it work”.

“The maths is fairly simple: over a two-week period, in the standard full-time model the average lawyer would generate 55 chargeable hours at an average of 5.5 hours per day.

“To make this work on a nine-day fortnight, the daily average chargeable hours need to be 6.1, or an increase of 36 minutes per day.

“I reckon most lawyers could make this work,” he mused.

Minds Count Foundation chair and Positive Group chief executive Melinda Upton agreed that a nine-day working model “could certainly work” and may provide many benefits both for employers and employees.

But, she added, “it needs to be thoughtfully implemented for it to be truly successful”.

“From the outset, it is important to consider how clients will be impacted and ensure that they are engaged in the process. Client service and coverage across all weekdays needs to be maintained,” she submitted.

“If this can be achieved, then it could provide better business continuity than a four-day week, but it requires excellent teamwork and communication. Clear expectations and a culture of trust and accountability are fundamental. Ensuring there is a definitive plan and policies can help to avoid confusion.”

Looking ahead with her firm’s own newly launched policy, Shine Lawyers chief operating officer Jodie Willey said that performance expectations — including the achievement of KPIs — will remain the same, just with greater flexibility for people to achieve them in a way that best works for them, whilst still serving the client and achieving business performance. 

“Naturally, law firms are watching the changing dynamics in workplace arrangements given what we’ve experienced over the last couple of years owing to the global pandemic, with interest. The next 6-12 months will be an interesting period of time to see where the profession takes flexible working arrangements,” she mused.

“The best way of ensuring it works is to maintain a guiding principle that keeps the focus on outcomes for all key stakeholders; clients, people and business. When one or more of these are out of kilter, the initiative won’t go the distance.

“The culture needs to be ready for it, both at a leadership and people level.”

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