Kim Tasso, founder, Practical Marketing Consultancy

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

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  • I am, frankly, appalled by the Kidocentric view of some of the posters on here who seem to believe that caring for kids is the only legitimate reason for flexibility. For those of us without kids, our issues are just as important, thanks very much.
    For instance, one of my best friends - someone I consider family - had a heart op last year and I needed flexibility to visit hospital and run some errands. My boss - who is brilliant - fully understood that to me, that was a necessary part of my life and my arrangements. Yes, my choice, but kids are a choice too.
    I feel very sorry for the partner with the mother who is ill. Having also done some caring for an elderly relative, I'm very aware of just how difficult and sad that can be, especially when there is no chance it will get better.
    The Anonymous poster who claims that other people's needs and life circumstances are 'watering down' this issue is out of order, and typical of the high-minded, egocentric and disrespectful attitude of so many of today's overcompensating parents.

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  • The wider point which is addressed (rather well) by this article is that while the female lawyer with a new baby is the paradigm example of firms' inflexibility in relation to employees' personal lives, there are many other situations in which firms could take a more proactive stance to support their employees. I feel for the partner caring for his mother, it's a hard thing to do. And one that (just like bringing up children) can be made a lot easier by a more understanding attitude from the firm. However in order to receive that sort of understanding, all recipients of flexible working need to ensure that they do not take advantage of it. It should be a reciprocal arrangement - and not a "work to rule" with the "rights" re flexibility enshrined in the contract which appears to be what some posters want.

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  • Kim: brilliant article; thank you. You actually ran the HR department at the firm I articled with many moons ago and I have great memories of you. I am struggling to balance my career with the demands of single motherhood and I do hope other voices will add to the valid points you are making regarding proper flexible working arrangments for mums as well as other caregivers. Keep up the pressure Kim!!

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  • I was rather hoping that the recession would bring an end to self-indulgent whingeing such as this. We all make choices in life. And life generally isn't fair. Deal with it. Mind you, it's considerably fairer to the likes of the author than it is to people lower down the social spectrum. Only a very small minority of employers can afford to be as generous to their female employers as the employer described at the end of the article.
    What's so bad incidentally about giving up work for a while and actually looking after your children properly? And if the woman is so well-paid and her husband less so, then the husband gives up work instead. If neither option is palatable and you're going to whinge like this, why bother with children at all?
    It's a very strange society we have created, I have to say. One day people will actually get real.

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  • Putting everyone else requiring flexi working under the same umbrella as parents (both men and women) who want to look after their young child does not sit right with me but if lawyers really are as parent caring and dog caring and best friend caring as they seem to be by these comments lets address each one in a separate bracket. The thing about women and their rights to be child carers and lawyers is that it touches a gender issue. Yes being a parent is a choice- but this issue of choice only seems to be one you lose out on if you choose it in the legal profession. Most other professions may not throw as much money as law firms do for maternity but they actually do not punish you as much for making your "choice".

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  • I agree with MM. The choices are yours to make and there is no reason why the firm must go out of its way to change it entire way of working just to accomodate everyone's personal lives. If someone is important enough then maybe you just have to make adjustments and maybe take a break or take the temporary hit to your career. At the end of the day its not fair on the rest of the team to have its work held up till 11AM simply because you had drop your kids off for soccer practice or whatever and then have to work till the wee hours of the morning while you get to leave at 6. And really, we don't get to spend hours commiserating over ex-boyfriends. Not without getting serious flak for it anyway!

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  • I'm afraid I agree with Big Dave. As a full time working mother, I have accepted that I have to prove my worth to my employers each and every day to remain secure in my job - and I pay my nanny a big salary to cover long hours. People will only cut you slack re. childcare issues where you have demonstrated that you will pull your weight in the team the rest of the time. Otherwise you become a drain on everyone else.

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  • It's amazing to think that so many people consider career choices and procreation to have an apparent equal standing. I am pretty sure I know which came first, and which retains a primary role. Unfortunately, the "have it all" element of the feminist movement in the latter part of the 20th Century has played into the hands of governments which are more than happy for men and women to contribute equally to the tax coffers. So, now, we have a culture based on work being the primary goal in life (whether through choice in the form of a career or base necessity), and all other aspects of life seem to be come the "choices" of individuals, which others in the workplace see as detracting from their own aims in the workplace. As someone wise once said, the problem with "success" in the workplace, is that it is defined by people who are workaholics. Lawyers often fall neatly into this stereotype and, as a result, seem to lose some of their humanity, seeing those who look for flexible working (for whatever reason) as somehow dragging everyone else down. A career ought to be more than just putting time in, but seeing the wider value of the work itself in the context of the society it inhabits. Or, in other words, no man (or woman) is an island. So deal with it.

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  • Hurray for Tom's comments. I too am baffled by this dismissive attitude towards procreation as a "lifestyle choice". And of course parents should put their children's wellbeing before their career or, God forbid, the firm. Wouldn't they be rather warped indidiuals if they did not?!

    By the way, to put my comments in context, I work full time and do not have kids.

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  • It's all about attitude. In my experience flexible working has flourished where there has been willingness on both sides to adapt. Most flex workers, regardless of gender, realise that they are likely to have to put in more hours proportionally, in the same way that most companies realise there is a benefit to retaining talented people balanced against a cost in that their arrangements have to be catered for.
    The problem comes when people take the benefits of flexible working as a right, without accepting the negatives. Firms have to protect themselves against the small proportion of staff who are self-indulgently self-centred in their approach and that sadly affects the rest of us.

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