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Agile working, described by many as the modern way firms empower employees with maximum flexibility and minimum restraint, has seen wide-scale adoption across several industries. Law firms, however, are often seen to be lagging behind. Experts suggest that successful law firms of the future will need to effectively promote agile working practices in order to increase productivity among employees and to attract the best talent moving forward.
George Bisnought, founder and managing director at Excello Law, says that agile working will become ‘increasingly important across the legal profession as more and more lawyers demand greater flexibility, and to be freed from many of the prescriptive working styles and a notorious long-hours culture so often seen in more traditional practice’.
Alex McPherson, partner and co-founder at Ignition Law, agrees with Bisnought and thinks current agile practices adopted by law firms are simply not good enough: ‘Too many law firms offer agile working that means no more than letting staff work from home one day a week.’ This fails to allow them to realise the full benefits of successful adoption such as ‘increased productivity, better results and an increase in loyalty’ experienced by employers from their employees.
The focus from agile working is on flexibility and is described by Bisnought as allowing ‘lawyers complete freedom and choice to work when, where and how they wish’. This involves getting rid of timesheets and targets on billable hours and rather focuses on the ‘delivery of high levels of customer service, ensuring direct access to senior lawyers and providing better value for money and outcomes.’ McPherson agrees and thinks agile allows maximum flexibility with minimum constraints: ‘By allowing workers to choose their space, working when and where they feel most content, the workplace becomes a more fun place’. He argues agile working further extends to factors such as ‘lighting, temperature, décor, type of laptop and even the chair you sit in’ as all can make a big difference to the productivity and eventual success of a firm.
Bisnought says agile working is ‘about reducing very expensive overheads and using innovative business practices and leading edge technology to deliver better value for clients from their legal advisors.’ This proves an attractive proposition for clients, allowing direct access to legal advice at competitive prices.
The benefits of adoption are ‘significant’ with law firms only recently beginning to welcome the full potential of agile working. McPherson says: ‘When health and happiness go hand-in-hand, the reduced levels of stress and pressure delivered by agile working not only make lawyers and team members healthier and more content, it makes them more productive too’. Bisnought agrees with this and states that the successful adoption ‘frees lawyers to focus 100% on looking after the needs of the clients, plus, for example, giving them the flexibility to attend their kids’ sports days, improving the satisfaction of staff.’
If law firms fully embrace agile working, McPherson says, ‘with every legal practice area and every lawyer working in them benefitting equally—whether in corporate, commercial or real estate, infrastructure or insolvency—the gains are the same because every lawyer, whatever the practice label assigned to them, is human.’ Although certain practice areas will be far more challenging to implement particularly where long office hours are the norm, eg mergers and acquisitions, corporate finance, banking and capital markets.’ McPherson believes that although these practice areas might be slow to adjust, ‘they too will follow as others lead’.
It is important, Bisnought says, for firms to adapt to how people want to live and work in the 21st century with the new generation of lawyers ‘increasingly less compatible with traditional working patterns.’ This poses a problem as although many industries have seemingly embraced agile and its flexibility, the legal profession is seen as one of the last adopters. This may seem a missed opportunity by many within the legal industry as Bisnought has witnessed through successful adoption of agile working ‘many lawyers rediscovering their passions for law. With the administrative and management burden removed, it can be very liberating. It’s a simple mantra but less stressed and happier lawyers mean happy clients.’
Experts claim that changes required for firms to adopt a more agile philosophy may take time and prove challenging, particularly for large traditional law firms. McPherson says: ‘The real challenge is to understand the benefits fully and to embrace the concept wholeheartedly, not reluctantly, or in a piecemeal fashion. That will only create a real disadvantage of being neither one thing nor another, confusing to employees and ineffective in realising their potential.’ Bisnought similarly says that adoption will require a ‘complete change in culture and has to be driven from the top—if the appetite is not there, or cultures and practices are so ingrained, it is going to be very challenging’. With firms embracing agile working, however, McPherson sees ‘every legal practice area benefitting and every lawyer working in them benefitting too’.
Interviewed by Matthew Barker. The views expressed by our Legal Analysis interviewees are not necessarily those of the proprietor.
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