A&O counsel role boost for flexible workers

A&O counsel role boost for flexible workers
The opportunity to steer her legal career along a non-traditional path has been a positive experience for Allen & Overy (A&O) counsel Victoria Wells.

Wells works a three-day week from her Yorkshire home, only goes to A&O’s London office for one day every two weeks and has not been fee-earning since 2001. Instead she sells legal risk management technology to clients.

But recently, as reported on www.thelawyer.com (11 April), Wells was promoted to counsel at A&O, a position only created at the firm in 2006, as reported by The Lawyer (12 December 2005).

The problem with the counsel role is that many fee-earners do not quite understand what it is meant to entail. Is it an alternative to partnership? Is it a stepping stone or a halfway house? Or is it an altogether new beast in the legal system?Wells says: “The counsel positions are new but it’ll be up to us to define that role. I’ve been in touch with some of the new counsel and we’ll talk about how to develop the role.”

Where, exactly, that will take the new generation of counsel she does not know. “It’s too new a role but I think that’s an exciting prospect,” says Wells. After six years as a derivatives and structured finance fee-earner at A&O, in 2001 Wells left legal work behind for a position in the firm’s derivative services department. The move was the first of several unconventional career choices she has made.

The online services department sells legal risk management software and services to financial institution clients dealing in derivatives.

“It was pretty much a career step where you knew you were stepping away from the partnership ladder,” says Wells.

Five years ago she made the second unconventional choice and moved away from London after marrying a Yorkshire farmer.

“At first I thought, ‘oh dear, I’ll have to move to another firm’,” she remembers. But, wanting to stay at A&O, she thought about alternative options and put forward an application under the recently introduced flexible working policy. She successfully proposed to work in London two days a week and from home the rest of the time.

Two years later, after a period of maternity leave, she then successfully applied to work a three-day week from home, with only one day in London every other week.

“I probably was the first person to push the policy to its limits,” she says.

Luckily for Wells (and A&O), the derivative services department has been a success. Around 65 per cent of “leading dealers” now subscribe, says Wells.

Perhaps the logical next step in Wells’ career was to apply for the counsel role.

“The moment it was introduced, I was extremely interested. The counsel role was a perfect opportunity for me to seek a promotion.

“We’re a team of five lawyers and are looking to expand – it was perhaps the career development non-fee-earners needed,” she adds.