Flexibility the key if firms are to prosper

To all intents and purposes Linklaters remains the most modern, forward-thinking and progressive of firms in the magic circle. The news that its flexible working scheme – which launched with great flourish two years ago – has flopped, is a disappointment not only for the firm, but the profession as a whole.

It is clear that there needs to be a commitment and a cultural change throughout the firm if the scheme is to be resurrected. Some lawyers derive a perverse pleasure from telling others about the excessively long hours they work. Though this may be the result of having to justify salary levels, the by-product of such macho posturing is that an inordinate amount of pressure is placed on all lawyers to "put in the hours".

This is partly the result of going through the greatest boom in the history of the UK legal market, which is creating its own yuppie class of very young and bright individuals who sign their personal life away in return for extremely high salaries. The latest appeal to this class of lawyers was revealed by SJ Berwin's salary hike for assistants in last week's issue. Though the young and single may be more able to fit in with such extreme emotional and physical demands, the repercussions for those with families and older lawyers like ex-Rowe & Maw partner Michael Webster (see page 9) are less attractive.

As the young and single continue their hegemonic rise in law firms, partners should be wary that in the rush to attract the young by pushing out the old, and having work practices which do not encourage lawyers with children, they are in danger of becoming new versions of their old monochrome selves. Partnerships that look, think and act the same will inevitably stay in the ghetto they have created.

Introducing flexible working and retirement ages may be using a nut to crack a sledgehammer, but they are nonetheless important attempts to bring a healthier plurality of experience to firms and need to be supported.