Flexible working – is it possible in a law firm?

The phrase ‘work/life balance’ can be heard mentioned in many organisations. Is it possible for a working parent to have flexibility in their hours? At Thrive Law the answer to that is yes, it is possible.

For one of our solicitors, Tanya Dolan, it has become increasingly difficult since having children, to balance spending enough time with them and furthering her career in law which she has worked so hard to establish and grow.

She reached a point where she was prevented from increasing her working days to try and further her career (she worked 3 days per week after having her first child) and unable to move to another law firm when the default position for all roles appeared to be working 5 days a week and office based. She felt that if she took on a full-time office-based role that it would mean that she would not get to spend any time with her children apart from at weekends.

Over the last couple of years, Tanya has worked hard on diversity initiatives simultaneously within the aviation and aerospace industries and within the legal profession. Tanya did this through her role as UK Lead of IAWA (International Aviation Women’s Association), Board Member of the Women in Aviation & Aerospace Charter and working with the Law Society’s diversity & inclusion committee. This was a great way to try and drive matters that she felt strongly about and connect with many like-minded people. Being able to compare the different issues affecting diversity within the aviation and aerospace industries compared to the legal profession was very interesting. While the aviation and aerospace industries are concentrating on how to promote the development of the future talent pipeline and working hard to encourage more girls and young women into the industries at early entry points (as the average percentage of women across these industries is 10%) the legal profession does not have this issue at all as more than 50% of lawyers qualifying into the profession are women. The concerning issue facing the legal profession is the problem with the retention of women, as despite more women than men are now practising law in the UK, the percentage of women at partner level is around 25%. This raises the question, why are so many women either exiting the legal profession or not staying at law firms?

During Tanya’s job search when she mentioned to recruitment agents that she would like to find a new role which is 4 days per week or 5 days with a day working from home it became apparent that this would be extremely hard to find. This substantiated her views that having a career and being able to see her children were unfortunately mutually exclusive. She believes that recruitment agents have a very important role to play in helping law firms to maintain a level of diversity at senior levels by putting forward more women for roles and recommending that the law firms consider flexible or part-time working so as not to lose great talent and further driving the lack of gender diversity at senior levels. When recruitment agents appear to give up helping women who are searching for senior roles but with a level of flexibility, this is simply exacerbating the problem.

A turning point for Tanya was last year when she attended her first WLAM (Women, Lawyers and Mothers) event hosted by the law firm, Slater & Gordon. The invite came from a friend who was one of the speakers, Yasmin Sheikh, Founder of the training consultancy, Diverse Matters. During this event one of the speakers, Caroline Flanagan, Founder of the coaching consultancy, Babyproof Your Life, spoke about how we measure what success is. Until then Tanya had the idea ingrained (perhaps subconsciously) that to be a success in her career was to be a partner in a law firm and that flexible working at partner level was not conducive to this. Caroline’s question to the audience prompted them to really stop to think about and discuss what success really means to them. This made Tanya realise that it should not be impossible to have a senior role within the legal profession and be able to prioritise seeing her children. She should not have to give up one to have the other!

Being part of the WLAM network helped Tanya to grow this realisation even more and speaking to other women who were going through similar issues within their careers after having children. Another very helpful WLAM event last year hosted by the law firm Squire Patton Boggs was where the focus of all the speakers was how to help the audience of female lawyers build on their own personal brand. Tanya has enjoyed every WLAM event she has been to since the first one around a year ago and it is through this network that she was connected to Jodie Hill, Managing Director of Thrive Law.

Until Cynthia Jakes at WLAM kindly connected Tanya with Jodie, she had thought that the way forward for her if she was to stay within the legal profession and still be able to have quality time with her children during the working week was either to work as an in house lawyer or as a professional support lawyer. Although these could have been interesting options to explore further, she felt it was a shame that private practice did not seem to be the way forward for her due to the reasons stated in this article. It was clear from the start of her discussion with Jodie and from her research of Thrive Law that this was a very different law firm – not only do they practice flexible working, but they completely embrace it! Jodie is also a huge advocate of promoting mental health support in the workplace and Tanya was so impressed with her promotion of this in the press and social media. Tanya could see how her diversity work to date could fit in well with Thrive Law and continue to develop and make a difference to people’s lives. Thank you so much to WLAM for helping to make this happen!

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