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To ask if anyone has any positive stories of working "flexibly" as a lawyer?

(50 Posts)
Pumpkinnose Mon 02-Nov-15 23:14:02

I am inspired slightly by the other thread on the headmistress telling school girls they can't have it all but mainly wanted to appeal to the collective mumsnet wisdom for my personal situation.

I'm currently on maternity leave with DS2, am a City lawyer now in house. In house role isn't as hard core hours wise as City law but still very full time (v fast pace, some work on weekends etc) and I have a longish commute each way. I will be asking to go back 3 or 4 days per week after mat leave but not sure if it's going to be possible. My boss is a slight control freak (I find law attracts them...) and struggles when I'm not sitting next to her so working from home can be stressful all round.

Despite this sounding highly negative, I enjoy my job and I'm good at it. I am fortunate that I have a hands on DH who previously worked part time pre my mat leave though this is looking trickier. I'm the main earner. However we've been cautious financially and could afford for me to take a pay cut though not to stop work entirely. I recognise I am on paper in an extremely fortunate position. I just want to have an idea of what other options are and what's out there in case I'm missing something obvious. I feel that I am in a constant contradiction of being highly ambitious and not wanting to be away from my kids all day every day, rushing home to get 10 mins with them before bed. The eldest is starting school and I'm conscious it is all getting more complicated.

We currently use a nursery. A nanny would be a real stretch - I'm near London and given it's obviously paid out of taxed income it would almost not be worth my DH working. I've also known a number of people who have found it hard to find a good one. I know a good one is worth their weight in gold. No childminders serve my child's school though there are after school club options.

How does anyone in client facing roles make it work? Does anyone?? Anecdotally it seems I need a boss who can just let me get on with it a bit more and also obviously get a part time role. But do any exist where you're not glued to the iPhone even when you're not there? I've wondered about contract work, trying not to work in the summer holidays but is something like Lawyers on Demand a good idea? Is it the end of your career? Will it pay the mortgage? HELP!

LittleFeileFooFoo Mon 02-Nov-15 23:19:49

I'm in the states, so it may not be analogous, but I work for a court, which gives me very civilized hours. Also, public interest law is much more flexible as well, though the pay isn't as good.

LittleFeileFooFoo Mon 02-Nov-15 23:20:56

My son came to work worth me the for the first 6 months, as i onlye didn't have any mat leave.

Gobbolinothewitchscat Mon 02-Nov-15 23:35:27

No. Sorry. I'm on mat leave but was previously a senior associate in a large international firm (regional office).

Despite trumpeting their famh friendly policies - in practice, the client is king and neither clients or partners gave one shiny shit about anything apart from giving the client what they wanted - essentially a seamless 24 hour service. The people who were held up as "successful" part-timers were PSLs with non-client facing roles

Tulipblank Mon 02-Nov-15 23:42:26

I'm an in house lawyer. Work 4 days a week, usually at least one day from home. Do the school run as well at least one day (on top of my day off). I have a good employer and simply asked for flexible working when coming back off mat leave (and was very clear about 4 days and working from home).

I simply block out my calendar til 9.30 if I know I'm doing the school run and say no to meetings and calls if they don't work for me.

I've learnt to be assertive. In house is different private practice in that I find the 'client' a lot more understanding of having a life outside of work.

I always keep in the back of my mind that I'm highly unlikely to be sacked for leaving at 5 once a week to see my kids, or getting in a bit late.

Good luck!

Fozzleyplum Mon 02-Nov-15 23:50:48

I have worked in private practice at partner level, and also did a stint in house. I found in both roles that the "presenteeism" ate up a lot of my time unnecessarily. Also. as a partner in a firm, I spent more time than I was comfortable with in practice management. 5 years ago, I started to work on a "Scomo" basis - self employed but working through a niche firm on a consultancy basis, paying the firm a percentage of what I bill.

I can recommend it, but you need to bear in mind the following:

- you will still need child care for young DC's. You cannot do legal work and care for young children at the same time. My DCs are now 14 and 12, and I work once they've gone to school and sometimes in the evening. During school holidays, I get up very early to get my work done, and generally stop work late morning and do some more later in the day.
- any legal role servicing clients will require you to be available for part of every day (with odd days off, of course). I take my laptop on holiday and I answer the 'phone outside office hours. I get and keep my clients because I am available when conventional law firms aren't.
- you need to be able to market yourself.

There are some Scomo firms which might enable you to pick and choose when you work, but I suspect this will limit your earnings. IME, the way to earn a good income is to be available and I accept that that is easier with older DCs.

In your present circumstances, I would recommend investigating a few the "lawyers on Demand" type firms and see if they can give you sufficient work of the type that will suit your family.


RaskolnikovsGarret Tue 03-Nov-15 06:44:13

I only managed to work flexibly in private practice as a PSL at a magic circle firm. Three mornings at home and one day in the office, it was fab.

Now working FT in house, one day at home.

You need the right firm.

Eastpoint Tue 03-Nov-15 06:48:53

I have friends who are lawyers who work for the Civil Service. There are job-sharing opportunities but I don't think they are paid particularly well.

whereonthestair Tue 03-Nov-15 07:05:33

I work flexibly, but have engineered my life to make it possible. I am a partner in a top 100 firm, so have seniority to delegate, but I do juggle a lot. I also work out of London, so walk to work. To make it work I don't have a set work pattern so I can always take time for clients in any day, but equally can do school runs etc as I control my diary. I am not that well paid for what I do, but as a profession we are well paid so I try not to compare with others.

Luckystar1 Tue 03-Nov-15 07:11:44

I hated my old firm (city) but, in fairness to them there was a girl who worked 4 days a week, one of those from home and she worked fixed hours so only 9-5, afaik she took a further 10% pay cut for the fixed hours deal, but in reality it's the best I've heard of.

And they changed her work accordingly. I've found, anecdotally though, that lots of people go part time and then complain that the work they are getting is not as good quality. So this may be a factor if that worries you (I don't think it bother me, but again I haven't gone back after mat leave!)

Suzietwo Tue 03-Nov-15 07:15:25

LoD is a glorified recruitment agency. I work as a consultant to one of the good consultancy firms (there are some shit ones) as well as my old (US) firm. I'm going into my 6th year of working like this. My career has progressed immeasurably and I earn more than lots of people working in the city. I do some long hours and weeks but it's all from home unless I'm in court, marketing or in meetings. So while I need child care (my bloke is now a stay at home) I see a lot more if my kids (1, 3 and 5) all the time.

If you're interested in more info send me a msg. It really is a life changing way of working.

homebythesea Tue 03-Nov-15 07:24:49

The only person I know it has worked for had to move from City firm to provincial (near her home) and she has had to be extremely firm about hours (some may not have similar chutzpah). The biggest headache for her is always school holidays where she and her DH have to juggle annual leave, get GP's to stay and use holiday clubs (very spendy) to enable her to work. She is earning about half or less what she coukd for her years of qualification in the City and is doing very humdrum work she thinks partly because she is the "part timer". I did the PSL route which was much better for hours and enabled working from home but I don't think you'd ever get back to fee earning from there.

Suzietwo Tue 03-Nov-15 07:26:20

I've just read the post above about scomo which seems to be what Ido. Never heard the term. What does it stand for?

Squigglypig Tue 03-Nov-15 07:33:55

I am now "full time" but work from home 2 afternoons a week so I can do school run. I also start at 8 so I can finish at 4.30. when I came back I negotiated 4 days with the Wednesday off. I think what worked for me was the fact I'd been there a while before I went off and they know I'm a grafter and also I work in a niche area mainly in litigation and most of our clients do not work long hours themselves. It seems to be working okay, I can't see myself becoming a partner for a little while but that's fairly elusive as a concept in our firm anyway. I think much must depend on firm.

Me624 Tue 03-Nov-15 07:35:33

Watching this thread with interest as I am currently expecting DC1. I think my options are rather limited compared to some of you as I am having my DC fairly early in my career - I am 4 PQE. My practice area doesn't lend itself well to in house. I do work in the regions rather than London but at a large commercial firm and some very long hours are nonetheless expected and I still have to respond to emails in the evenings and at weekends.

I have more or less resigned myself to the fact that I will still have to work full time. Some women at my firm do 4 days, none do less than 4, and even the ones who do 4 are responsive on their day off. It is very clear that if I want to progress I need to be as available as I am now. My DH is supportive and has quite flexible hours so I am hoping that he will do the majority of nursery pick ups etc. But that means I will hardly see my child in the week! Which I am sure I will quickly tire of. It's a very difficult dilemma.

askabusywoman Tue 03-Nov-15 07:40:09

I always advise women not to do 4 days. 20% pay cut and you will do 100% of your work with the only protected time being 9-6 on the day you don't work. It's no protection from weekend work or late nights on other days. Much more effective to do 3 full days.

The resistance to working from home sounds like an individual rather than institutional one, but if you are doing it more regularly do you think your boss might get used to it? Especially if you are just as available and responsive. But one day at home isn't going to make a serious dent in the childcare bill as you will only be cutting the commuting hours, and if you are not looking at a nanny you will still have a childcare commute, albeit shorter.

Altium has a good reputation for alternative career path lawyers.

wishiwasacollie Tue 03-Nov-15 07:40:20

I work in house. Previously private practise for 25 years. Sorry but I have a fantastic employer who allows me to work from home. Go in for meetings if need be but rarely. They are totally flexible and can do my hours round childdcare. That said it is manic and often work evenings and weekends but the flexibility means there is little build up of resentment......mostly. The teams do appreciate work life balance but your day is never your own with conflicting deadlines and constant juggling. I know these jobs are rare.. I would never go back to pp.

Anotherusername1 Tue 03-Nov-15 07:44:07

I trained at a city law firm and was working in-house when I had ds. When I went back to work I did 4 days a week and paid for a full time nursery place so that I had some flexibility over my days (eg if a meeting fell on a day I wasn't working or if I wanted to do something without ds like get a haircut). But 4 days a week did mean 4 days, I didn't work on my day off unless I switched my days.

At no point in my career could I have afforded a nanny.

I changed jobs and worked full-time but generally worked one day a week in that job. But it was very difficult fitting work into nursery hours and I only lasted a year - especially as the company was a US company so there was pressure to fit in with their hours (West Coast). Then I went back to private practice where I worked full time, but regular hours to fit in with train times and nursery - it kind of worked but it was difficult, and I left there after just over two years. And I liked the people I worked with but wasn't keen on the work. They did let me drop to 4.5 days when my son went to school so I could do one pick-up a week, but wouldn't let me work flexibly. There was one incident where I was due to leave on my half day and a partner (not from my team) came in with some work for me which he wanted doing there and then. I said I was about to leave and he raised his eye-brows and I said "you wouldn't let me work flexibly so my hours are set. You can't have it both ways". I did go home to collect my son, but it's an example of where you have to be very assertive to put your family first (the work could and did wait). However, I left the firm about three months after that!

So I went to work for one of the law publishers as a PSL. Regular hours, one-two days a week at home. Great job, loved the work and had some lovely colleagues. But had a micro-managing boss which made it very stressful. I lasted four years there.

Took a break from law for about six months and then ended up working for the law publisher's main rival, at first freelance and then properly. I've been there for just under 3 years. Lovely boss, work from home most of the time, and the work is great. I think if push came to shove I could work in practice again but I hope I never have to.

It might be worth your looking at the likes of Halebury or Obelisk. Or join us as a PSL for in-house!

bronnie98 Tue 03-Nov-15 07:54:19

I went back to my old firm in Aus 2 days a week. My boss was amazing, let me do office work so I didn't have the stress of going to court etc.

Since moving back here I have found NOTHING part-time which is entry level so now about to start with civil service. Part-time, Flexi-time and pretty well paid. Fantastic childcare subsidy and fully pay maternity. Really feel I have made the right choice.

TestingTestingWonTooFree Tue 03-Nov-15 07:56:30

I'm a 4 day a week lawyer and it does work. I might be doing a bit more than 4 days, but it's only 85%, certainly not 100%. The difference is that most of my work is Court based. I agree if you're going to have the same case load as everyone else, a 20% pay cut to be out of the office for 1 day doesn't seem worth it.

ScottishDiblet Tue 03-Nov-15 08:13:02

I'm a lawyer in the civil service. I work 3 days per week. It's amazing and totally works with having a child. I think when my DC starts school I will probably do my three days stretched across five so I can do school drop off and pick up. I genuinely only do three days' work, no blackberry, no working from home etc. It's amazing. My bosses are women with children and caring responsibilities. I used to work at a magic circle firm and none of my female friends have lasted there long after the first child. Oh, actually one friend who is in a specialist role (not really a fee-earner, but not a psl either). She is about to go in her second maternity leave. They love her! She works one day a week in the office and the other three from home. Another mum I know does three days a week in the city as a psl. That seems to work. One of the nannies I know from a class we go to is a nanny for a family of two city lawyers. It's pretty full on for the parents (mum is a partner at a magic circle firm). I wish you the best of luck!

Pumpkinnose Tue 03-Nov-15 08:29:27

Thank you everyone so far for your thoughts and especially the good luck. There's some food for thought. I think the working from home is something I will need to push. I am highly valued (hopefully that will be the case post maternity leave...) so I think it will have to be a case of don't ask, don't get.

Do please keep your experiences coming in. It is good to feel that there are other options out there even if I change direction pretty soon after my return.

atticusclaw2 Tue 03-Nov-15 08:31:37

I work very flexibly but had to set up on my own to do it successfully.

In many ways it works for us. I earn three times as much as I did as a partner in a large national firm, I'm generally at home to take deliveries/be around when builders etc need to be in the house and I am there when the DCs get back from school every day.

However, the downsides are that you really do need a very good client following. Even if some clients get on well with you they are not always going to be able to move their work from a large full service firm to a tiny boutique firm. The amount of admin and marketing etc is mind-blowing. It takes up about a third of my time. The insurance is high (depending on specialism and the sra/law society fees are too. I also get very bored which is why I spend a lot of time on MN. There comes a point where the money doesn't compensate for the fact that I have to do stuff I would ordinarily delegate because I could do it in my sleep.

Be very careful of Eversheds Agile/Lawyers on Demand etc since they are really only dishing out overflow work. You are either available or you're not and the work is either in your area of the country or its not. In the city you might get a few more roles offered to you but its certainly not a set up where you can expect to be working all the time. Ive been signed up wth one of them for three years and have been close to getting one project (and then it all fell through when the client realised that actually its a very expensive option for them).

The fee sharing "consultancy" firms also need to be looked at very carefully. Lots of them just expect you to bring your own clients. they take a cut and give you insurance and some admin support. You can't just use that as an ever after career plan unless you're prepared to move about a lot since clearly you're not really self employed. As a result, after a year or so with one firm you're likely to have to move, which means you lose part of your client base all over again or give the impression to your own clients that you can't settle. I spoke to a couple of them and worked for one for six months whilst waiting to be registered by the SRA. It was fine but clearly not a long term thing. I believe there are some now that take you on as an employee but on a fee sharing basis.

I have worked as an employee for two different law firms on a part time basis. One was a very large very well known national and it wasn't bad. Yes I did five days work in four days but my targets were pro rated and I had the flexibility on my day off to do other things. The other firm was a disaster and didn't work at all. They viewed part time as something which only meant they got to pay me less. As a result when I left at 4 each day it was like I was still at work, even to the extent that meetings etc were booked and I was expected to attend.

mammmamia Tue 03-Nov-15 08:40:55

Not law but consulting (client facing). Worked 3 days a week for a couple of year which was very difficult. I now work 4 days but in every day finishing in time for school pick up 2 days a week. This works very well. There are some women (and it's always women) who work 4 days having Friday off but I found this didn't work for me as I'd end up working anyway on that day. Far better to have ring fenced time after 3pm ish two days because it means I'm around for really most of week.

Am fairly senior with ability to control diary to an extent and work from home 1-2 days a week.
I do a LOT of work in the evenings to fit everything in and I will not make partner anytime soon. On balance it is worth it for the flexibility. I would absolutely not do 5 days in this industry.

Pumpkinnose Tue 03-Nov-15 08:44:46

atticus that's a very helpful and interesting post, particularly on the LoD/Eversheds Agile angle. I am finding it useful just to see how others make it work.

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