Wish you weren’t here?

13 June 2018

Step out of the office & take some time to reflect on your work/life balance, says Matthew Kay

The summer holidays will shortly be upon us and lawyers will be taking to the beaches in droves. Once there, many will start reflecting on their lives and their work/life balance, thinking how they can make changes for the better. That is, those lawyers that aren't checking their work emails from their sun lounger.

And for those lawyers that are checking into the office from the beach, it could get them thinking about one of two things: either marvelling at how technology makes working from the beach so straightforward, or that it might be time to readdress their work/life balance.

Technology matters

Despite the stereotypes about what a lawyer should be like—a professional always in the office—technological advancements in the last five to ten years mean that there’s now more than one way to progress a legal career. It is now practical and easy to log into your emails on the side of a Munro or from a forest in the South of France. Advancements such as the Cloud also mean your office can be wherever you find yourself in the world.  We’re undoubtedly living in transformative times, and the changes to the employment landscape don’t seem to be slowing down any time soon—every day you hear stories about the influence of AI and the potential threat of ‘robot lawyers’ taking over the roles humans once filled.

There is also a great deal of social change that seems to walk hand-in-hand with technological advancements. And while there’s no denying that advances in technology come with a plethora of benefits, technology can set life at a terrific pace that not all of us can keep up with. As a result of this, clients and colleagues alike can expect instant responses to emails, at all hours of the day. In Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked, Adam Alter suggests that 70% of office emails are read within six seconds of being sent. So, it’s no wonder that people are feeling overstretched and anxious when they’re trying to work and process information so quickly. As such, companies are now placing far more importance on mental wellbeing and ‘mindfulness’, which in part means ensuring that their employees have a healthy work/life balance. For many, gone are 12+ hour days, and in fact, a survey from Timewise in 2017 showed that 770,000 of UK workers earning over £40,000 are working part-time—an upsurge of 5.7% from the preceding 12 months which is likely to continue growing.

Change is in the air

So what does this modernisation really mean for the legal community? And how can lawyers make sure they take full advantages of these changes?

A career in law is often perceived as very traditional, with long days and blocked-out diaries. In recent years however the profession has seen something of a revitalisation and there is an invested interest in innovation and the development of agile working. As millenials continue to enter the workplace, traditional models may no longer be appropriate—as well as putting an importance on work life balance, millenials also place huge value on varied and worthwhile work. In order to continue to attract fresh young talent, firms must adjust to these new expectations of working life.

One example of someone who has taken full advantage of the changing employment landscape, and who could give us all some summer inspiration is one of our own at our contract lawyering firm Vario. Ruth, a lawyer who has chosen to work in a flexible manner, has been a consultant with us since 2013. Ruth splits her time between Italy and the UK and works remotely for FTSE 100 clients. As Ruth puts it, ‘all you need is a good printer and good wifi,’ and you’ve essentially got an office anywhere that you might be in the world. Vario’s option of a flexible working environment means Ruth has been able to live out her dream of residing in Italy and this just goes to show how the new careers we dream about from the beach could actually be achievable in real life.

Tips for the road less travelled

We have seen that freelancing is a popular alternative choice in nearly all careers and sectors, and law is no exception, with both seasoned and newly qualified lawyers choosing this path. However, the thought of moving from a comfortable and traditional career path to a route less travelled can understandably be daunting. Here is a list of helpful tips to make the transition into contract lawyering easier:

  • Understand what motivates you Take some time to really consider what motivates you—are you family and friends orientated or completely driven by future business prospects (or both)? Or perhaps you’re seeking a more flexible work structure and the chance to work alongside a wide range of clients?
  • Plan ahead Think about what is required of a freelancer—the ability to build networks, enough money to cover any times between assignments and knowledge of future marketplace trends are all worth considering.
  • Make enquiries Look into contract law providers. Working in this kind of environment isn’t for everyone, so it is vital that you choose a provider who can offer you the type of work you’re most interested in, as well as providing the support you need.
  • Contemplate your talents To be a successful freelancer in any sector, you must possess the right kind of energy, enthusiasm, and initiative, as well as vital ‘soft skills’, such as emotional intelligence. Working across different continents and with a range of (potentially challenging) personalities, you have to prove yourself to be assertive, flexible and a good listener.

So, whether you’re lying on your sun lounger in Sardinia, hiking in the Outer Hebrides, or enjoying some gelato in a piazza in Florence, take this time to consider what changes you can make to your career for the better. Whether it’s the possibility of going freelance, or the opportunity to work remotely or more flexibly, making the right change can be one of the most rewarding steps in your career.

Matthew Kay, Director of Vario at Pinsent Masons (www.pinsentmasonsvario.com)