Kim Tasso, founder, Practical Marketing Consultancy

Opinion: Law firms’ flexible working policies – could do better

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  • Interesting piece. The point about gender differences in attitudes to men and women taking time out for kids is well-taken, but I think the 'extra effort' coping with colleagues' hangovers and cake-related counselling, for instance, is overplayed.
    Having worked in a group with several women all working part-time, there was never, ever any flexibility on their part about hours (understandably; as the author points out there is very little time to rush back before the nanny departs) and lots of instances of extra time having been taken during the day when kids were ill, sports days, nativity plays, parent-teacher stuff etc.
    Add that to the part-time working and I'm afraid that childless people were always covering for the part-timers, both at either end of their fixed hour days and during their days off, something which I can't remember being reciprocated on a single occasion.
    Interestingly, when my own (exploratory) request to go part-time was heard, it was deemed to not be in the interests of the business, because there were already too many part-timers...
    'Respect for life choices' is one thing, but when there is no reciprocation, no respect for one's own life choices, it's quite a tough ask. Having kids is, after all, a choice, one which is accompanied not only by the manifold joys of having children, but also via the tax and benefits system.
    You might say - not without some justification - that the 'system' is already stacked in favour of people without kids in terms of promotion, but surely creating a 'level' playing field removes the choice advantages of not having kids, and therefore amounts to positive discrimination.
    The author's example of the female board member is interesting. Fixed hours, part-time, no meetings during school hols: sounds more like Inflexible working...

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  • KIm- your insight and description is spot on with my experience when I was a non mum lawyer watching the way mums at work were treated. In my experience- it was always ok for Generation X to have rolled in at midday after the night before frolicking with Partners and clients (a frolick not always to celebrate a deal).....but come in late because your child was unwell....tut tut tut. You should write more on the topic as the law needs frank women like you.

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  • My partner's law firm agreed to flexible working when she returned to work, but refused to enshrine in her amended contract of employment any entitlement to payment or time off in lieu for those occasions on which she will be asked to work on her day "off". Naturally, they were not so shy about ensuring that the 20% pay reduction was reflected in the revised contract. So, the deal is, you can have flexible working, but just don't expect to be paid on those occasions when you are asked to work on your day 'off' even with all the added expense and hassle involved in rearranging childcare for that day. It is a Tribunal case waiting to happen.

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  • I agree with a lot of this article - particularly the differences in attitude towards men and women with children. And when I wasn't a mum, I never felt bitter about "having to cover" for those going home to nativity plays etc - I felt sorry for them having to endure such rubbish (this was before I realised that if your own child is in it, it's brilliant!).
    However, at the risk of being one of those bitchy women who won't help their own, I think a lot of working mums take the mickey. For example, if you are asked to come in on your day off. Nobody is asking you to do it for nothing, you'll get paid or a day off in lieu. But if you are needed for training, then you should be able to arrange childcare with enough notice. I very much doubt that there are many cases where people genuinely couldn't arrange extra childcare with say a month's notice of a training day or the Christmas dinner.
    I also think that maternity benefits should only be paid for up to two babies. How can employers function when their employees go off for a year at a time several times every 18 months or so? I do believe that dads should be able to share maternity leave, but I don't see why employers and taxpayers should bear the burden of peoples' desire to have so many kids - surely two are enough, and if not, pay for them yourself.

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  • Helen, on your comment,
    "For example, if you are asked to come in on your day off. Nobody is asking you to do it for nothing, you'll get paid or a day off in lieu"...
    That is precisely my point - at least one law firm I know of will not give a contractual right to payment or time off if you are asked to come in on your day off. That is the employer taking the proverbial, not the employee.

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  • Why do these kinds of pieces always focus only on the role of women in bringing up children? There are many other difficult life situations where law firms could be more flexible, and these situations affect men as well as women. I am a male partner in a large law firm who is trying to take care of my aged mother who has Parkinson's Disease, which creates significant stress. I find that the women at work generate a considerable amount of sympathy when they speak of situations where they have to take time off to be with their children, but people become very uncomfortable if I tell them that I need to take time off to care for my mother. I end up having to cope with this situation by myself with little support from others. We all have to cope with difficult situations in life in which flexibility from our employers is warranted, and this goes far beyond women taking care of their children.

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  • One can only conclude that law firms don't see a compelling business case for accommodating working mothers, otherwise they would do so.

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  • To Anon at 1.20 16 Feb - ok I stand corrected. Although I am not sure it has to be contractual - I spent over two years working 8.30-5 for a firm that said in my contract that I had to work 9-5.30. I left at 5 so that I could do the nursery pick-up. They wouldn't put the revised hours in my contract. It was never a problem though, but I realise it will depend on the firm.

    To Anon at 2.11 I totally agree that the debate always comes back to women with children. Dads and men with caring responsibilities should also be considered.

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  • Its the presence of commenters like Helen and the chap who has caring responsibilities that this issue is watered down and will never be solved. Having a baby and looking after one is not the same as being a carer to an old woman. Your aged mother can get a a carer and has a whole sense of vulnerabilities that a child does not. Your old mother does not need you- but a child needs its mother. The latter is a little thing that needs its parents for development at every stage. Having a child is a responsibility. You do not just have a child and the choose who can look after it according to its needs. They are not clauses in a contract that can be looked at by different departments- children need continuity of care. Its a totally different situation to an aging mother. Please give me break on these parallels. Helen- the whole point is that most employers do not give money to make up for working days that are supposed to be off. Further as a woman its very sad that you think a dad with a caring responsibilty to an aging mother (the latter who has lived a huge part of her life and certainly should not be needing her son on a daily basis as much as an infant needs a parent) is the same as a woman who has a career and a baby- very very sad.

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  • Actually I was going to post that I thought that as a partner, he could afford to pay for proper care for his mother and didn't need to do it himself. However, I thought that was a bit harsh, in the same way that it would be harsh to say to a woman in the City that they can afford to pay for a nanny. And actually, a baby/young child is probably very happy with their carer, because that's what they know. It's different for a lonely old lady who probably does want her son. I think carers of adult relatives should have the same or similar rights to carers of children.

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