No one doubts the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the flexible working model, including within the legal industry. The evidence of a shift is undeniable – but what does that shift look like “on the ground?”

As noted in this article, Thomson Reuters data shows that pre-COVID, 22% of lawyers voiced a preference for flexible working. The figure now stands at 63% -- nearly a three-fold rise. What explains this sharp increase? I have a few ideas based on the global view of the market that my role affords me and my recent conversations with customers and members of our vast network of Talent. These lead me to conclude two factors are critical:

  • The WFH Revolution. Pre-COVID, opportunities to work from home (WFH) were nearly non-existent; even when WFH was available, it was usually a cultural faux. The pandemic forced everyone – including the WFH-phobics and skeptics – to embrace the new ways of working. Once legal professionals saw that they and their teams were just as productive (or dare I say MORE productive?), WFH became the preference of many professionals.   
  • IT’s Great Leap Forward. As Paul Daugherty, Group Chief Executive (Technology & CTO) at Accenture, has observed, the pandemic effectively pressed the fast-forward button on IT evolution. Change may have been inevitable; indeed, many organisations were already shifting to more flexible working structures or even 100% virtual (Elevate among them!). But what was once anticipated to take a decade occurred in under two years – including in the legal sector.  

The move towards location-agnostic and hybrid working has also shone a spotlight on:

  • The Importance of Workplace Inclusivity and Employees’ Sense of Belonging. However much IT infrastructure evolves, the human experience drives the overall success of any organisation. It is now more important than ever to prioritise inclusive cultures and employees’ health and well-being. 
  • Access to a Broader, More Diverse Pool of Talent. Eliminating geographic constraints vastly improves the range, breadth, depth, and diversity of available Talent. Countless law organisations now enjoy the benefits of tapping into resources with niche skill sets, opening up to a broader range of skills and experiences, and offering Talent opportunities that they did not have pre-COVID.
  • Temporal Flexibility. Along with the broadening of the location of available Talent, we have seen a shift in when Talent works. Yes, core working hours still exist, but the emphasis on when or where work occurs has begun to fade. Quality work, meeting deadlines, and successful outcomes reign supreme as never before. Some legal professions have even shifted from traditional full-time roles, preferring to embark on a portfolio career (such as with Elevate) working for multiple Customers on a flexible basis. This arrangement works especially well for organisations that cannot accurately predict the time a matter will require or without the budget (nor a need) for an FTE for a particular matter.

I am convinced that legal organisations that ignore the growing preference for flexible working do so at their peril. Employees want to feel trusted, valued, and empowered. We have already seen swathes of Talent voting with their feet in favour of organisations that offer greater flexibility and truly listen to their people. These have become clear and powerful differentiators.

The era of flex working in legal has arrived. Indeed, the next time anyone surveys legal professionals, perhaps the key question should be: Do you really want to work for an organisation that still mandates where, when, and how you work? There’s every reason to believe that increasing numbers of lawyers won’t agree to those terms.