Forward looking firms will welcome flexibility

The Government has been consulting on regulations to implement the EC directive on part-time workers.

These will ensure that part-timers have the same pro-rata rights to pay and benefits as full-timers.

The aim is to raise the status of part-time emp-loyment and create conditions where more people are willing to vary their hours of work.

But what about the legal profession?

Part-time working has long been an issue particularly for women at the stage when they are bringing up families.

Many younger women who attended the Woman Lawyer Forum felt they would have to give up work whether they wanted to or not. However, it is not only women who want flexibility. For a variety of reasons, men may also want it.

At a time when recruitment and retention of staff is key to meeting the unprecedented levels of client demand, flexible working is something that the profession should be getting to grips with.

Of course there are inherent difficulties.

Some firms that have sought to introduce flexible arrangements have not been able to make them work.

The need to provide client service is paramount and, especially where transactional work is concerned, it is not usually possible to supply a consistent pattern of part-time work. And given the usual restrictions on child care arrangements, it is not possible for employees to provide their services flexibly to meet client demand.

Where work is done in teams it may be possible for work to be covered effectively in the absence of a team member.

And flexibility may be provided in other ways – absence in school holidays for example.

Where there is a will it may be achievable – and we have examples where it is working well.

Advanced technology can help. It is becoming ever more possible to work from home. Computer voice recognition software is making rapid advances and the use of email for the exchange of documents and the internet for research makes it practicable to work away from the office.

The rapid pace of these developments challenges law firms to devise new ways of delivering client service consistent with the balance which many – especially younger – lawyers wish to maintain between work and life.

Long hours in the office are becoming less attractive to many of those we seek to recruit.

Either they will not come to us in the first place or, after training, they will move to jobs that do provide the kind of flexibility and financial rewards they seek – probably being lost to the profession forever.