A draft model proposal for a flexible working arrangement has been unveiled by the Australian Legal Practice Management Association (ALPMA) and Women Lawyers NSW (WLNSW).
The model, which was launched at an event at Hunt & Hunt offices in Sydney, was developed especially to assist lawyers in small and mid-tier law firms to proactively negotiate flexible working arrangements.
The draft model is intended to act as a template which can be adapted by lawyers to suite their individual needs and is designed to take into account the position of all stakeholders - the lawyer seeking flexible work opportunities, the clients, the supervising partner, colleagues, direct reports and support staff.
People strategy consultant Nicole McKenna, who was the guest speaker at the launch, and has extensive experience working with law firms, said that the draft model will be particularly beneficial for lawyers working in small-to-medium firms which - unlike their larger counterparts - are only just starting to embrace flexible working initiatives.
"I think those firms are in a different position in that often you have very diligent partners that are busy working on everything from client development and meeting practice requirements to purchasing decisions. They're busy people who don't necessarily have the kind of sophisticated HR functions or people practices that the larger firms have, which means the lawyers really need something that they can use themselves to figure our flexible working arrangements," she said.
McKenna believes that while law firms are improving in terms of promoting and utilising flexible working arrangements, there is still a long way to go - particularly in the partner ranks - and she says it's up to the senior leadership teams to take the initiative.
"At the end of the day it depends on the leadership of the firm and the willingness of them to give it a try - and also the partners within the particular practice group recognising that that means everyone has to buy into the process," she says.
She adds that while flexible work is often talked about in the context of women, it's also a serious issue for men.
"Unless they're an elite athlete, or you're winding down in the twilight of your career .... I think it's incredibly difficult for a man to put his hand up and say 'Actually I'd like to work flexibly'. And it doesn't help when he looks up and doesn't see many other men doing it," she says. "They're perceived not committed, not serious about their career, second class - so they just don't ask."
She believes this initiative, which will allow lawyers to proactively approach their firm in an informed way, will be a positive step in assisting lawyers in this position.
"You're much better off being proactive. You're much more likely to get the kind of outcome that's good for you and good for the organization if you think through all of the issues from the outset, and you come and say 'This is what I want, this is how it's going to work, this is why it's good for you'," she says.
ALPMA members can download the draft model proposal from the ALPMA website.