Case Study - A long term relationship with a Legal Firm

Flexible working is a key attraction and retention tool used by many legal firms. Making flexibility work in a pressured client-focussed environment can present challenges. In this project, Managing Work|Life Balance consultants have worked with this client on various projects for over 15 years. .

Case Study - Making Flexibility Work

Since the start of our relationship this Law Firm has moved from a firm with little or no flexibility and few women in senior roles, to a Firm that now has a national reputation for having a flexible work environment with in excess of 20% of its legal staff and over 15% of Partners working flexibly.

In an article in the Australian Financial Review, the then Managing Partner stated that one of the ways to encourage “the attraction and retention of women lawyers (and men) is through flexible working. She stated that:

There must be a genuine commitment to making flexible work arrangements work for both the individual and the firm. This is something we've been focusing on. Three key things that have been working well for us are:

(i) Firstly, well developed, easily accessible policies and processes have been vital - among other things it assists individuals in compiling a business case for working flexibly and provides managers/partners with the tools for considering and implementing requests

(ii) Secondly, the appointment of a dedicated Flexibility Manager (a senior HR professional) has helped ensure that there is equity of process. She also provides support and coaching for all stakeholders in putting a flexible work arrangement in place and ensuring its continued success.”

ii) Thirdly, and probably most importantly, is creating a culture that encourages honest and ongoing discussions about expectations, challenges, what's working (and what isn't) and career goals

There have been two key phases to our involvement with the Firm:

1 Establishment of a flexible workplace strategy.

In this early stage (2003) it was important to persuade the Managing Partner and Partners that flexible working was a critical issue for their business. It would help them attract and retain talented staff. We also needed to establish a foundation on which flexible work arrangements could be established with minimum impact on the client and the team.

In order to collect the data we needed to demonstrate the business case we facilitated a series of focus groups and then conducted a firm wide survey. This process allowed us to start the communication process and build some important relationships. Prior to briefing the partnership group on the survey findings we were able to have discussions with the Managing Partner who agreed to champion and support the implementation strategy.

Subsequently we assisted the Firm with the development of its flexible work policies, communications to staff about flexible working and processes to support the discussions between Staff and their Manager or Partner. The HR team were very effective in monitoring and supporting both staff and Partners during the ongoing implementation of various flexible work arrangements. The MWLB team provided ongoing advice and support during the subsequent two to three years.

The results of the Firm’s early efforts were seen publicly when they started to gain recognition through the awarding of various industry Work/Life/Diversity Awards for excellence.

2 Review and Upgrade of Flexibility Strategy

Subsequently MWLB were asked to help conduct a review of the flexible work arrangements within the Firm as there were some concerns about the way in which flexibility was now working. In tandem with their project leader we conducted an extensive consultation process which consisted of interviews, and focus groups (including staff on parental leave) as well as a review of the data from internal surveys. We also reviewed their application and decision making criteria. As a result of this process we were able to recommend a number of important changes that would make their strategy more sustainable. These recommendations included:

  • The appointment of a Flexibility Coach.
  • The formalising of the application and decision making criteria
  • In the set up process ensure that:
    • Clear performance criteria and mutually agreed goals are established prior to the flexible work arrangement being approved.
    • All stakeholders (in the flexible work arrangement) agree on "what success would look like" when the flexible work arrangement is working well.
    • A timetable for regular and constructive communication between partners and lawyers about flexible working is established.
  • The development of key competencies that need to be demonstrated by staff who wish to work flexibly
  • Coaching for Partners on the management of flexible work arrangements within their practice groups.

We worked with the HR team to present these findings to the Management Team and move forward with their implementation.

Currently

The Firm uses the MWLB Child and Eldercare Information Kits to great effect for their staff. We continue to be in regular contact with the HR Director and her team and most recently met to review progress over the last fifteen years of our association.

Outcomes

The Firm continues to be recognised as a Firm that supports flexible working and has reduced its recruitment costs substantially. Over 20% of legal staff work flexibly and in excess of 25% of support staff work flexibly. The Firm has been awarded the EOWA Employer of Choice Award for the last three years.