New thinking needed on flexible working

Lawyers want to spend more time away from the office. Clients are demanding they are there for longer hours and firms are caught in the middle. So much is not new.

What is new is that the firms are looking at doing something about it. Last week The Lawyer revealed that Freshfields had joined Linklaters in considering part-time partnerships. This week Herbert Smith revealed that it may extend its flexitime partnerships and other big players are looking to follow suit. As our news analysis (page 12) points out, behind closed doors the firms are realising that unless they do something radical they are set to lose talented team members and consequently business.

The problem, however, is that no single firm is ready to make a radical move. Flexitime is one thing, but the sort of work practices that allow both men and women lawyers to organise and prioritise their workloads and their childcare without prejudicing either, demands thinking outside the narrow confines of part-time versus full-time.

What is more, the firm that thinks the unthinkable and tackles the issue head on will have to lobby for that strategy with its clients and with those of its existing partners for whom such things are a side issue, or worse, a women's issue. That firm, however, may well be the one that attracts the sort of lawyer who can also think the unthinkable.