Comment: The secret to a legal work life balance: can IT finally hold the key?

by Marie Dancer, managing partner, Richard Nelson LLP and Medic Assistance Scheme
It’s no secret that technology has revolutionised the legal workplace. Some changes we’ve embraced as an industry. Others though, not so much. When it’s come to changes like embracing paperless offices or adapting for remote working, on the whole, we’ve not exactly been at the cutting edge. Us legal folk have rarely been able to keep work and home life separate even before working from home was a serious option. It’s no surprise that we didn’t immediately see the potential.
However all that’s now changed. After being slow to come around to the idea of flexible working practices, we’ve recently made huge gains and have arguably become one the most forward-thinking industries in this area. For many legal professionals, even turning up to the physical office is now no longer necessary. We’re not alone, though. According to the ONS, 14 per cent of the UK population did their job from home in the first three months of 2015. That’s more than 4 million people and the highest reported figure since records began in 1998.
It’s a solution that many firms are turning to in order to bolster business’ growth and staff morale thanks to the huge advances in VoIP and cloud-based working of the past few years that allow for seamless and immediate correspondence. Finally, the ‘usability’ of the software has caught up with the technology.
For law firms it makes using legal consultants more viable than ever, lowering overheads without compromising on the quality of service being delivered. It also lets them offset those painful cuts to Legal Aid. The flexibility of working from home makes it ideal for legal consultancy. That, in turn, lets firms venture into new areas of expertise more easily instead of having to take the risk of employing one or more specialised solicitors upfront before the new work is there.
Although these remote solicitors come on board on a contractual basis, they still work under the umbrella of a firm, so customers don’t notice a difference. They also work under the company’s insurance, keeping the regulators happy too. It’s a commercially feasible and viable approach in an industry that has a tendency to be otherwise volatile. Remote legal consultants simply set up their computers at home, login to the company’s terminal server (where all company work is stored) and they’re ready to start the working day. Any work saved here is instantly synchronised allowing other consultants – in-house or otherwise – to immediately access and collaborate on work.
From a firm’s perspective, the model allows them to take on lawyers and give them opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t have had under regular employment law. The flexible, contract working model is not for every solicitor. However it certainly appeals to a growing number who get the flexibility to work as they want, when they want, around their own schedules and without the stresses of commuting. For consultants looking to focus on their freelance careers, it’s a perfect fit, and when it works, it works really, really well.