HM Insights

A flexible & family friendly working culture

Martin Darroch, Chief Executive at leading Scottish law firm Harper Macleod LLP.

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Law firms are different. That's something you'll often hear within the traditional confines of your average law firm, and for that matter many other professional services firms. It's not intended to be a positive message but rather an excuse not to embrace change. And in some ways they are different. For a start, your most senior people tend not to be employees at all, but as Partners are joint owners of the business. For solicitors – often referred to as fee-earners - whose income will be linked to the billable hours they record for clients, "time-pressure" is tangible.

But to simply say that flexible working "can't be done" in law firms is a cop out.

At Harper Macleod we pride ourselves on being a different kind of law firm, one that is first and foremost a modern business. So when you have research from organisations such as Family Friendly Working Scotland showing that 87% of Scottish business leaders who offer flexibility say it’s good for business you have to take heed.

Events such as Flexible WorkFest are essential but when the dust settles businesses have to live flexible working and make it central to their organisation's culture in order to reap the benefits – both for employers and employees.

Our people are part of a collective effort: sharing the stresses, celebrating the successes and inspiring one another to always improve. Doing things the right way is always the best way – for our clients, our communities and our colleagues – and that's something we are unwilling to compromise on.

We are members of Working Families – the UK's work-life balance charity – and were also one of the first law firms in Scotland to sign up to the Scottish Government's Scottish Business Pledge which encompasses a commitment to flexible and agile working policies.

Already more than 25% of our people are on flexible working patterns, a figure that's growing. In fact, a big part of our recruitment messaging is that we embrace flexibility, including when and where people work.

There is a lot of competition for the best people, who nowadays are more likely to move around throughout their careers. I believe that if you focus purely on the financial package, rather than taking an overall view of the benefits of working for your business, then you are setting yourself up to have a high turnover of people.

If you can meet people's expectations and create an environment which will work for both you and them you are at a competitive advantage. A big part of this is having high quality tools of the trade which enable flexible working.

At the same time, you can't forget that work is part of the work-life balance. As a business advising sensitive clients who may have data security requirements – including Government departments and blue-chip companies - remote working is not always an option. That's where having full flexibility to look at alternatives and accommodate our people where we can, alongside the reality of business requirements, comes in.

Flexibility is not about looking at each individual in isolation. It's about organising your working practices collectively so that the job can be done in the most efficient manner while you also meet the needs of every individual as best you can.

We know from experience that happy people make for a better business. Who can argue with that?

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