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‘If you get the work done, it doesn’t matter when you’re doing it’

Firms that look after their staff and prioritise their wellness and work/life balance will have not only happier employees but also a higher quality of work, this lawyer emphasised.

user iconLauren Croft 28 March 2023 Big Law
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Phoebe MacDougall is a lawyer at MacDougall & Hydes Lawyers. Speaking recently on The Lawyers Weekly Show, she discussed how lawyers could make their working lives operate in a way that is beneficial to both them and their employers.

There are currently two partners at MacDougall & Hydes, Lauren MacDougall and Carly Hydes, who set up the firm, which now has five staff, to provide increased flexibility for their employees.

According to Ms MacDougall, the firm is forging a “new dynamic”, meaning she can work how and when she likes.


“Historically, in law, you have your billable hours, and you’re required to be at the office from whether it be eight o’clock, nine o’clock in the morning until 5:00 in the afternoon, and you’re expected to be at your desk doing as much billables as you can throughout that period, but I think anyone that’s done it that way would know that it’s pretty difficult in a day to be sitting there constantly making billable hours.

“You get home, and it’s dark, and you haven’t got enough time to go out and do anything that you enjoy. Our philosophy is more if you get the work done, it doesn’t matter when you’re doing it. Each solicitor knows when their deadlines are, and we have regular catch-ups and regular meetings,” she explained.  

“We have an office that’s available to the staff should they wish to use it, but we don’t feel like we need them to be there 24 hours a day constantly being in the office when they could be doing that same work from somewhere where they’re comfortable and enjoying themselves.” 

“Of course, if it requires me to be meeting clients or in court, I’m always going to be in attendance on those occasions. But if it’s a period of three hours in my day where I don’t need to be doing those things, there’s no reason why I can’t be doing it from home or can’t be doing it from the beach if I’m still getting that work done.”

While this looks different week to week, Ms MacDougall said that most mornings, she’s at the beach, then the rest of the day depends on whether she has court or has to go into the office.

“Sometimes, I’ll be driving out to Liverpool straight after or to Campbelltown. Sometimes, I’ll come into the city for a few hours, do my court mention. And then, if I don’t have anything pressing that needs me in the office, I’ll usually catch the ferry home and work from somewhere in Manly, go to the gym at lunchtime, spend some time with friends, having coffee if they’re around, and then go back and work when I want to,” she added.

“I actually do a lot of my work at night time. I see no reason why I shouldn’t make most of the hours in the day for mental health and wellness and enjoyment and then come back in the evening and do some work at home when it’s dark and I’m not actually doing anything else.

“I’m definitely grateful to the partners of my firm for having that trust in me to know that I’ve got the discipline to be able to get that work done and not just be spending my time doing all the things I love and not getting any work done for them. So, it definitely involves a bit of trust when it comes to letting your staff have that flexible arrangement.”

Being able to work so flexibly and have this trust with her employers, Ms MacDougall said, has benefited her so much.

“It’s hard to explain how much, because I’ve worked in offices previously where there’s been a really high demand for being present in the office and almost a glorification of being busy. The busier you are, the better you’re doing, the more successful you are. And so, people are trying to put more and more on their plate, and they’re not really coping with it, and you end up burning out. I personally have definitely been in a position where I’ve burnt out massively and had some very serious mental health issues because of that,” she said.

“So, the difference that I’m having now is just astronomical because I have time to really switch off now and do what I need to do to keep myself sane. In turn, the benefit is that the work you’re doing becomes better because you are more focused and you are enjoying your work more, enjoying the people you’re working with more as well. Physically, I’ve lost weight. I’m healthier. I’m doing more exercise, but mentally it’s just a huge, huge difference.”

Furthermore, if more lawyers were able to practice in ways that work for them, rather than traditional working office hours, the profession as a whole would be better off, Ms MacDougall added.

“I can’t think of a single reason why it wouldn’t be better. It’s a question I couldn’t even form an answer to because, to me, it’s so obvious. If you are looking after staff, if your staff is happy across the board, surely that’s going to end up with better work quality and happy, more collegiate staff too,” she emphasised.  

“I genuinely do think that this is something that a lot of firms should really look closely at and take a chance on because your staff is going to be happier, the work is going to be better, and then you’re just going to go forward in better ways.”

The transcript of this podcast episode was slightly edited for publishing purposes. To listen to the full conversation with Phoebe MacDougall, click below: