Flexible working case study

Elaine Bradley, head of tax at US law firm Dorsey & Whitney, has a very flexible arrangement with her employer.

Not only is she allowed to work from her Oxford home when she is not required at the firm's London office, but she also spends one day a week running her own internet company Byabiz.com.

When she is at home, Bradley works on a laptop and takes calls on her mobile or dedicated business line. “For most of my clients, it doesn't matter whether I'm in London or Oxford,” she says.

Other employees at Dorsey & Whitney have to make an individual case if they wish to work from home, but very few do. Across the sector as a whole, home or teleworking is still in its infancy with most law firms arguing that staff need to be office-based.

Dominique Pengelly, associate director at recruitment consultants Longbridge, thinks there will be an increase in home working as firms try to avoid losing key employees. “It depends what department a person works in. If they are in a litigation department where there are a lot of court appearances, it's going to be impossible,” she says.

And more law firms are offering sabbaticals. CMS Cameron McKenna offers up to three months away from work once an employee has been with the firm for 15 years. It is also looking at flexible benefits and has allowed staff to trade holiday for pay since last July.

Clifford Chance employees can flex their core 25-day holiday entitlement by up to five days – but only against salary. Head of HR policy Assheton Bogg says the firm tends to take a “clean cash” approach to benefits, so that there is very little left to flex other than holiday.

Pengelly admits that law firms are behind employers in other sectors when it comes to flex. “They like to standardise benefits because they're dealing with a large number of people,” she says.