In today’s competitive hiring environment, recruiting highly skilled legal professionals remains a priority. In response, many law firms and companies are emphasizing alternative work arrangements to attract the industry’s best talent.
Flex time, not face time
It used to be that ambitious legal professionals were expected to spend long hours in the office to demonstrate their commitment to work. Today, more attorneys and paralegals are seeking flexible hours, including working from home or the local coffee shop. While they’re still logging in long hours, this generation of legal professionals doesn’t feel a need to be tethered to a physical desk in the office.
In a recent survey by our company, nearly 6 in 10 lawyers (58%) cited flexible scheduling as the top policy to help them strengthen work-life balance. Remote work arrangements ranked second in the survey, with 57% of the response. And nearly 7 in 10 respondents (68%) said that the number of lawyers at their law firms/companies who work remotely has significantly or somewhat increased in the last 12 months.
As the number of legal professionals who telecommute increases, many employers are reducing the physical size of their offices, reconfiguring workspaces and becoming more creative with design. Traditional office space is being reduced in many cases in favor of more open work areas that enhance collaboration and teamwork.
Encouraging balance, improving job satisfaction
Work-life balance perks also are playing a more significant role in retention. Employees consistently cite flexible scheduling, telecommuting and time-off policies as the top reasons to remain with an employer. Law firms and corporate legal departments can promote work-life balance in a variety of ways to improve employee productivity and job satisfaction. Here are seven tips:
- Ask for employees’ input – Have legal team members complete a survey to identify work-life balance factors they consider most important. Request suggestions on changes they believe would enable them to more successfully manage career and personal priorities. And importantly, regularly include work-life balance issues as a topic in meetings and review sessions so you can adjust policies as needed.
- Recognize that work-life balance means different things to different people – Employees often have different perspectives regarding balancing career and personal goals. While many professionals value flexible work hours, others may consider the ability to work from home as their highest priority. With each individual, discuss what you can do to help support them in striking a good balance to address their needs.
- Embrace flexible work alternatives – Employees consistently rate flexible work arrangements as key to achieving work-life balance. Offer a range of flexible options – such as compressed work week, remote work opportunities, reduced hour requirements, job sharing, non-partner-track positions, flexible personal days and vacation time; also, be understanding and flexible when employees request time off to manage responsibilities outside of the office.
- Encourage more efficient work practices – Arm your legal team members with tech resources that aid with routine tasks, increase collaboration and facilitate remote work arrangements.
- Put a premium on healthy activities – Encourage employees to take short breaks; provide health and wellness resources to workers, such as access to fitness facilities or gym memberships or stress or time management training programs.
- Manage burnout quickly – Recognize the warning signs of employee burnout, such as irritability, recurring sick days, decreased productivity or diminished quality of work. Immediately address the situation by encouraging the individual to take time off to refresh and implement changes to mitigate chances of future burnout. Also, consider alternative staffing solutions, such as hiring consultants or contract personnel to reduce workload pressures for the entire team.
- Walk the talk – Managers should model work-life balance behaviors. When you encourage employees to disconnect from work activities when out of the office, you need to do the same. When you take vacation time and totally unplug, it shows staff that it’s appropriate for them to do likewise. Lead by example and demonstrate you value and respect employees’ personal time off.
These workplace trends reflect the need for the legal profession to remain nimble and responsive to client needs. As law firms and corporate legal departments realize, their future success depends largely on their ability to adapt to a changing business landscape.
Jamy J. Sullivan is executive director of Robert Half Legal, a premier legal staffing service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments. Based in Menlo Park, Calif., Robert Half Legal has offices in major North American and global markets and offers a full suite of legal staffing and consulting solutions.