More law firms introducing flexible working, but progress remains slow

SisyphusWhen it comes to the adoption of flexible working, law firms have proved to be one of the more intransigent sectors in the UK. But there are signs of change with news that more firms in Scotland are embracing new working practices. A survey of 3,400 solicitors carried out by the Law Society of Scotland found an increasing number were making use of flexible working. The research shows that while the majority of respondents (77 percent) continue to work full time, two thirds are now allowed to work away from their main place of work although take-up remains sluggish with only a quarter doing so at least once a week. In marked contrast to other professions, around two thirds of respondents did not access emails and work files while away from the office.

Amongst the other interesting results from the survey is the fact that men are significantly more likely to be allowed to work from home than women (69 percent compared to 56 percent respectively) or work remotely  (66 percent males compared to 51 percent of women). This discrepancy may be a structural issue according to the report given that female employees in the legal profession have a tendency to fall into the £15,000 to £45,000 salary range whereas male employees are more likely to earn between £65,000 and £150,000.Similarly, women are more likely to be employed as  administrators, trainees, associates and so on while men are more likely to be partners or directors.

All of this will come as some comfort to those within the legal profession who are looking to promote the uptake of flexible working in the sector. These include the president of the Law Society Lucy Scott-Moncrieff who earlier this year called on firms to take a more proactive approach to flexible working as a way of increasing levels of creativity and innovation as well as attracting and retaining a more diverse workforce. She was echoing a call made more formally in January by the Law Society with the publication of a report promoting the advantages offered by flexible working including  providing staff with a better work-life balance and attracting the most talented staff.

Despite these calls and the willingness of a large number of firms to consider flexible working, there is still a great deal of inertia in the sector. According to a report produced in the Spring by Legal Futures, only a third of the large firms signed up to the Law Society diversity charter have introduced flexible working. The report found that around 33 per cent of large firms and 54 per cent of small organisations had introduced flexible working at some level. This marks a degree of progress but a report published last year by the CIPD found that across all UK organisations, some form of flexible working had been adopted by 96 percent of employers.