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Lawyers can reap benefits of agile working amid rail strike chaos

Lawyers can reap benefits of agile working amid rail strike chaos


'Irrespective of strike action, the agile working train has well and truly left the station'

Agile working is the future of the legal profession, a law firm already embracing the model has said, as rail strikes continue to disrupt businesses in London and the South East.

A 24-hour walkout by London Underground staff caused havoc on Monday with tube stations closed across the capital. The strike impacted more than 4m tube journeys estimated to be made every day. Meanwhile, commuters are experiencing further serious disruption to the Southern rail network this week as Aslef and RMT union members again strike in a dispute over driver-only trains.

In addition to the inconvenience caused, it has been estimated that strikes on Southern rail alone cost the UK economy £11m a day and have totalled almost £400m in lost productivity since they began last year, according to research carried out by the University of Chichester.

Guy Setford, chief executive of Setford Solicitors, told Solicitors Journal that this wave of strikes is a reminder to UK law firms to consider the benefits of an agile working scheme for staff.

‘Legal clients don’t want to have to worry about whether the trains are running, they just want to know the service they are paying for is going to be delivered, and by employing a firm that embraces agile working that worry is taken away,’ he said. ‘This is the future of the legal profession, and irrespective of strike action the agile working train has well and truly left the station.’

However, it’s not just clients that benefit, Setford explained. ‘If done correctly agile working gives lawyers the control over their working lives they deserve. They can achieve a better work-life balance and enjoy greater financial rewards through more efficient ways of working.’

Setfords – founded in 2006 – has enjoyed significant growth of late, with its turnover rising 20 per cent in the past year to over £8m. Over the last 12 months, the firm saw 65 consultants join up – an increase of 38 per cent on the previous year – and opened a new office in Chancery Lane. In December, the firm received an investment of £3.75m from the Business Growth Fund.

Keystone Law, the UK’s first dispersed law firm, has enjoyed similar success, with the recent rail strikes having ‘no impact’ on its lawyers’ productivity.

Speaking to Solicitors Journal, William Robins, Keystone Law’s chief operating officer, said: ‘In times of transport issues – such as tube strikes, and the ongoing Southern rail saga – the firm’s lawyers simply do not face the same stresses as their traditional counterparts.

‘Keystone’s location-agnostic approach provides practitioners with everything that they need to ensure their productivity and client service delivery levels do not suffer, irrespective of where they may find themselves working, whether that be at home, in-house with a client, or at an office hub of their choice,’ he continued.

‘Lawyers are completely autonomous over how and where they work, meaning that unforeseen circumstances such as rail strikes have no impact on how well they do their job.’

Founded in 2002, the firm currently employs 210 practitioners. Its self-designed intranet system, Keyed-In, provides lawyers with the support and administrative tools they need to work from wherever suits them and their clients best. Like Setfords, Keystone moved into offices in Chancery Lane last year to centralise its support staff and give its lawyers the opportunity to work closer to them.

The agile working model is also beneficial to those firms which have decided to subcontract out their work. Obelisk Support uses a flexible outsourcing working model where over 1,000 pre-vetted lawyers work remotely for clients, either on stand-by or as supporting legal advisers.

The company’s founder, Dana Denis-Smith, said that her business’ independence from law firm ownership meant it was able to adapt quickly to its clients’ strategic objectives and deliver value.

‘Our focus is constantly on what the clients need and how we can help them get the work done in the most cost-effective way,’ she told Solicitors Journal. ‘This means the lawyers get interesting varied work, when they want to work, and they can work remotely, which is cheaper and less stressful than travelling into an office. A win-win-win for consultants, clients, and Obelisk.’

A culture of presenteeism is difficult to break, especially in the capital, but more and more firms are seeing the benefits of an agile workforce. In 2015 Herbert Smith Freehills expanded a pilot scheme that blended contractual flexible working with less formal agile working. Just a few weeks later, Clifford Chance also announced the introduction of agile working for its London-based fee earners.

Meanwhile, in the regions, Bristol-based Foot Anstey launched ‘warm desking’ – one step away from complete hot desking – two years ago, while Stevens & Bolton’s managing partner, Ken Woffenden, told the journal in 2016 that he was looking to ensure his firm did not ‘operate a policy of “presenteeism” and we recognise that availability for client work does not necessarily mean people have to be present in the office’.

Writing in 2014, Steve Ryan, managing partner at SA Law, said regional firms can benefit from the inflexibility of the City firm culture. ‘Many firms are attempting to develop their policies on flexible working, but I believe that regional firms have an edge – it can be easier to break away from traditional roles when you have a smaller and more responsive structure.’

Need more convincing? Then consider the words of Shoosmiths’ HR director, Louise Hadland, who recently explained that successful law firms of the future would need agile working schemes for their lawyers to work collaboratively and deliver the best service for clients: ‘Whichever way you cut it – client service, employee satisfaction, reducing overheads – agile working is a winner.’

So, during this new Winter of Discontent, perhaps it is time to revisit your firm’s employee manual and consider some much-needed amendments. Can your firm afford not to?

Matthew Rogers is a legal reporter at Solicitors Journal | @lex_progress