Balancing the needs of employees

Caroline Rawes, head of HR, Linklaters

Lawyers are in demand. The recent round of pay increases is indicative of the increasing competition to attract and retain the best of them. But the job of a lawyer is, in return, a demanding one. Lawyers working in private practice in the City, and particularly in international law firms, make a huge commitment and work at a high level of intensity.

Furthermore, technological progress has increasingly blurred the line between life at work and personal time. It was not so many years ago, before the invention of mobile phones and the BlackBerry, that work finished on leaving the office and that the prospect of booking a holiday or shopping on the internet while at work was unheard of. Now we are used to mixing work and personal responsibilities in the day and rarely have the opportunity to switch off.

While we cannot do much to change client demands and technological advances, as an employer we can ensure that we put in place the right working environment for our people. That comprises managing them effectively and ensuring that there are the benefits and facilities in place to help individuals deal with particular pressure points.

We also need to recognise that, while lawyers often share common qualities of ambition, drive, intellectual capability, professionalism and client orientation, there are generational differences in what they value and in what motivates them. Prospects of partnership are perceived to be further away and even, by some, less attractive than they were to the previous generation. It is important to young professionals today to feel that they get interesting work, develop their skills and are rewarded fairly for their current input.

Linklaters considered how the firm’s benefits package could be improved in order to address these changing pressures during one of the firm’s regular consultation meetings with its associates; and it was as a result of this, and the increasing need to reward people competitively in the market, that a review of pay and benefits was undertaken.

During the review, the firm examined what the firm’s associates felt would help them manage their work, home and family commitments most effectively. What became clear is that they wanted assistance in dealing with domestic and personal arrangements that could otherwise cause quite significant stress.

A common example given was a boiler breaking down and an individual having to take time to find a plumber and identify a date and time when they can be at home to let them in. As such, the firm’s concierge service, previously only offered to partners, has been extended to all other legal and support staff to provide assistance in such situations.

For parents, the problem of finding alternative provisions when their regular childcare lets them down meant that introducing an emergency childcare service to all staff also made practical sense. All lawyers and support staff will now be offered an emergency childcare service, at the firm’s cost, providing for either a local nursery or a qualified nanny to visit the staff member’s home if they are needed in the office and their normal childcare arrangements are not available.

What Linklaters’ lawyers also said is that, almost above all else, they value time. The nature of work in different practice areas can put differing pressures on individuals. In particular it is the unpredictability of working hours and weekend working that can cause most disruption to people’s personal lives.

As a result, the firm has implemented a ‘time bank scheme’ intended to address this by equalling personal time given to the firm with additional time off. Under this scheme, associates and trainees who have had to work long and unpredictable hours will be able to accrue extra days of paid leave which they can ‘bank’ or roll over year on year, up to a maximum of 20 days. Individuals will be able to draw down from this bank, adding extra days to other holiday or annual leave, or to take a mini-sabbatical of sorts, be it at the time of the birth of a child or to climb the Andes.