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Far-reaching benefits of a flexible working model

For lawyers chasing a more flexible working life, having an open and honest stream of communication is the first step, according to this lawyer.

user iconLauren Croft 14 April 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.

Ms MacDougall is, therefore, able to work how and when she likes — and said that as Lauren MacDougall is her sister, having those conversations around flexibility has been made easier. 


“[However], the three of us have always maintained that we want to make sure that each person in this firm has the time to be able to spend with family and have time to take off if they’re feeling like their mental health is suffering. And so, there’s always, from the very beginning, been a very open dialogue about what the needs of the staff are,” she added. 

“But in saying that, we have regular meetings and we have regular catch-ups, and so we’re always making sure that people are on top of their workload. If they are slacking off on it, then that’s a conversation that obviously has to be had as well. What is it that’s causing you to slack off on it? Are you taking advantage of this freedom to do what you want to do during the day?

“So, I think it comes down to communication and really just being able to vocalise those things to your staff as well. So, it is a bit more work for a partner, I would say, to be monitoring their staff and making sure they’re on top of what they’re doing if they’re going to be given those types of freedoms, but we haven’t had any issues with it so far.”

While this type of working model means leaders within the firm have to have an increased level of trust in their staff, it also breeds more institutional loyalty, as lawyers with a good work/life balance are more likely to stay at the firm long term. 

“Even with the most junior of our staff in the form of paralegals, if they’re starting their careers out with this kind of trust and freedom, [they are likely to want] to stay on as solicitor because of that benefit of having this type of workplace, but it also does give everyone in the team a little bit of collegiality with each other in social settings as well,” Ms MacDougall added. 

“I think a lot of people would think if you are giving your staff the option to work from home, that they’re missing out on that social aspect of the office environment, but I would disagree with that. We still have that firm social aspect as well, even though we’re all working remotely most days.”

Despite working remotely (and occasionally from the beach), Ms MacDougall maintained that client-facing interactions remain professional, in addition to having open conversations about her “modern” ways of working. 

“I don’t have clients following me on social media, so as far as they’re concerned, they don’t need to know that I’m working from the beach. But when it comes to client interaction, I think, for us, that still has to maintain a very professional look. I wouldn’t be conferencing clients from the beach, I’ll be conferencing them from either my home office or from our city office. Obviously, with court, you’re going to be in-person [and] face-to-face for most of those. I think our clients do appreciate [the] more modern way that we work. 

“We’re very open with them about the fact that they’re not always going to have the same solicitor for every occasion. For example, if one of the partners has a commitment for family or for a child, it’s very often that the other partner will pick up that matter and run with that matter for a little while to give them the space they need to do what they’re doing, and the same with most officers. We’re very open in dialogue with our clients about that. 

“But I don’t think you really need to have that question, that dialogue with your client. I don’t think they really need to know where you’re working from so long as the work is getting done, and it’s to a degree that they’re happy with.”

For firms and lawyers alike, who want to implement a working model like this one, having an open conversation is the first step. 

“There should be, in a perfect world, no disadvantage to having the conversation. Whether you get what you want from that is a different question. But I think for practitioners as well, you need to be mindful of whether or not you personally think you have the discipline to actually get the work done when you’re given this freedom because it is tempting.

“We all know working from home, you can see the bed, you can see the couch; it is tempting to just slack off a little bit. If you are not the kind of person that can go home at five o’clock and start working during the night to get things done, then it might not be the most beneficial kind of lifestyle for you. Not everyone works the same. Some people really enjoy coming into the city every day and that routine and having that office space,” Ms MacDougall added.  

“So, make sure it’s something that you actually want and then just be willing to maybe not get the answer that you’re looking for, but meet halfway. We’re lawyers; we’re good at negotiating. You can start it in one way and have that be a little bit of a test. If it’s working out and then move further down the track, maybe move into more freedom. Personally, this is how you would get the most out of me. If I’m doing my work this way, it’s making me happier, and a happier me is going to work better for you.”

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