Going hybrid with the consultancy model: the best of both worlds?
Here at Si’s Matters, we have frequently reported on the ongoing conversation surrounding the culture and working practices in legal, about the pressures and demands common to this sector and the harms these can cause when not properly managed, such as workplace bullying, burnout and depression, to name but a few.
And then there’s the pain of the daily commute for those whose working life is still predominantly office-based: the countless precious hours lost on the tube and the train, not to mention having to swallow down the frustration of putting up with poor service, late trains and striking train drivers.
It is therefore pretty unsurprising that many legal professionals are choosing to leave behind the life of billable target hours and long days common to many traditional law firms – a number of which are also increasingly demanding that their people return to the office now that the pandemic is ‘officially’ over – in favour of more hybrid forms of working such as consultancy, which offers lawyers better pay and more free time, according to Adrian Jaggard, co-founder of Taylor Rose MW, in The Times:
“Consultancy has become an attractive and viable alternative for experienced lawyers that offers increased earnings and a better work-life balance accruing from working from home.”
The same Times article quotes a piece of research by corporate adviser Arden Partners, which found that a third of lawyers in the UK could be working in a consultancy practice by 2026, drawn by the allure of “self-employment under a revenue-sharing model, where they leave behind billable hour targets but benefit from a brand and management infrastructure and keep a percentage of the fees”.
Some consultancies certainly manage to strike the proper balance between high-quality client service and consultant satisfaction, as Taylor Rose’s own impressive growth figures attest: within the space of 13 years, the firm has grown from a one-office practice with an annual turnover of £150k into a 31-office goliath with a headcount of 1,650 and a turnover of £79m.
And the appeal of hybrid working as part of a consultancy practice is very clear, though not without its challenges, as Florence Brocklesby, founder of the boutique consultancy Bellevue Law, outlined to us:
“We have had a hybrid model since the firm was founded long before lockdown, and as the firm was founded with flexible working at its heart, our lawyers have always been free to work where and when they like. I credit it with our success, as it’s enabled us to hire world class lawyers who want more flexibility and control in their working lives.
“However, all of our qualified lawyers are very senior; I recognise that it’s more of a challenge to provide training and supervision for junior lawyers remotely, and our trainee and paralegal are both mostly office-based.
As Florence makes clear, consultancy may be a much easier route to go down for senior lawyers than junior practitioners in the early stages of their career – the latter may need to first earn their chops in the trenches of traditional law firms before they can build enough of a skillbase and reputation to switch lanes.
But for senior lawyers, it seems to be the ability to enjoy the best of both office life and home-working that allows them to flourish – and the top consultancies that they work for to truly shine.
“Being a modern law firm within the revenue-share market, we take an approach to infrastructure that works for our lawyers and our clients. Our London HQ is a busy hub, full of team members collaborating and meeting with clients. Whilst many of our lawyers choose to operate their practices predominantly remotely, they also enjoy the connectivity that our offices provide. With 21 ‘hot-desks’, meeting rooms, plus further collaborative workspace, our offices are a place where lawyers can work, connect with each other, network, as well as meet with clients.
“Our management team are accessible to the entire workforce of more than 200 partners globally via Microsoft Teams, but also available in the London office in person when a meeting is requested. Our Managing Partner Antoine West and our Senior Partner Simeon Spencer are in the office three to four days a week.
“We’ve worked really hard to build a sense of community and a spirit of teamwork within our firm. We are values led, and our core value of Collaboration sits at the heart of what we do. Collaboration does not happen without the opportunity to build solid working relationships and trust between our people. And those connections are most likely the piece of the puzzle that you traditionally lose by not all working from the office.
“That’s why we are increasingly putting on social events, organising panel discussions and facilitating networking opportunities, both online or in-person. Our lawyers crave this connectivity and the entire firm has been galvanised by an approach which reflects the modern way of doing business, but also acknowledge the benefits of a traditional approach to developing a highly engaged, connected, professionals services offering.
“This connectivity is the magical piece of the puzzle that can often be lost or hindered when we are not all working from the office. With that in mind, we have taken all of the social and enjoyable parts of working in an office and engaging as a team, and we implement this via a busy calendar of social events, networking opportunities and educational talks and seminars, whilst removing the presenteeism and billable hours targets that can be so off-putting to experienced lawyers who simply want to be empowered to maximise the potential of their expertise and their practice for the benefit of their clients.”
It’s interesting to read what Emma says about the need for a sense of community – this is obviously very difficult to come by if everyone is working remotely in their own little silo all of the time. It seems that in order to create a feeling of shared purpose and esprit de corps, people must spend at least some of their time working together and interacting with each other, even if this is only in the virtual sphere.
Another crucial observation is that consultancy practices aren’t unique in offering hybrid working to their lawyers. It would paint a very false picture of the sector to claim that lawyers have to make some binary, black-and-white choice between a gruelling career spent full-time in the office at a more traditional, partnership-based firm or enjoying the unfettered freedom offered by consultancies.
Indeed, many law firms are understandably keen to keep their talent happy and are therefore choosing to offer their people the same benefits of hybrid working as consultancies, with a good mix of working from home and in-office. One such firm is Leamington Spa-based Wright Hassall LLP, whose marketing director, Sarah Jordan, spoke to us about the firm’s approach to hybrid working:
“One hundred per cent of our team is based at our Leamington Spa office. Approximately 75 per cent of the business works in a hybrid way. Our debt recovery group is unable to work from home due to their dual regulation by the FCA and Law Society. The rest of our team are welcome to work from home and we generally encourage that on Mondays and Fridays, having most people together in the office Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. I personally stick to the two days a week at home rule, which is a perfect balance for me and enables me to plan my meetings while I am in the office and catch up whilst at home.
“I think because we have the best of both worlds, with our hybrid working policy, anything we might miss two days a week [while at home] we get to experience three days a week [in the office]! We encourage regular Teams calls and keeping in touch with our teams and colleagues when we are at home, and people are very welcome to be in the office any days they wish. Apart from our people, the one thing I do miss when I am not in the office is our Costa coffee!”
Wright Hassall’s hybrid working policy certainly seems to be well-received and enjoyed by its people, and doesn’t sound too dissimilar to the work environment offered at Spencer West. It is also a model that has been adopted by much of the industry, as Florence Brocklesby points out:
“From my work for individual lawyers and law firms, the norm now seems to be towards three days in the office, whether mandated or encouraged. However, with firms adopting a wide range of approaches, the good news for lawyers is that they are free to find the model which works best for them.”
The fact is that traditional firms know that they have to have a strategy in place to deal with the allure of consultancies if they are not to lose a high percentage of their talent to them: law firms can own their own consultancy, collaborate with external consultancies, try and offer many of the same perks of hybrid working, or simply ignore consultancies altogether. But no strategy is not an option in the face of this ascendant competitor model.
In the opinion of Dana Denis-Smith Denis Smith, founder of Obelisk Support, law firms are essentially either cracking the whip or dangling the carrot in their approach to hybrid working and dealing with the threat of consultancy practices:
“I think we see clear boundaries being set – law firms who want to follow what their clients do and recall people and mandate office time for a majority of the time; this will fit some people and it will be clearer to them what the employee value proposition is of this type of firm (i.e. money, quickly); the other category will be those who fully embrace new ways of working as a way to retain talent and create a good work culture where life/work balance takes centre stage.
“Generally speaking, hybrid work is here to stay but at very different speeds across the sector – and, as we are faced with an economic downturn and more struggling firms, some of the *old* ways are being clung to either as a solution or, more cynically, a cheaper way to reduce headcount as people choose to leave, not stay.”
That is a very interesting thought indeed – that firms might be deliberately using mandated office time as a way to drive away those not fully committed to the respective practice’s ethos and culture.
Ultimately, one of the great things about the legal sector as it now stands in the wake of the pandemic – which has obviously wrought profound changes in people’s expectations when it comes to work-life balance – is that lawyers are free to choose the model that best suits them in terms of hybrid working (as Florence highlighted above). Whichever route they decide to go down, one thing seems very clear: hybrid working is with us for good.
The Goldman Sachs settlement – paving the way for more group litigation in the UK?
Last month, Goldman Sachs gave in to the seemingly inevitable and agreed to pay compensation in a class-action sexual discrimination lawsuit brought against the banking behemoth by a large group of female employees who claimed that Goldman was offering them unequal pay and fewer opportunities than their male counterparts.
The eye-watering settlement of $215m, paid to approximately 2,800 female Vice Presidents and Associates at Goldman, is one of the largest of its kind in US history and represents a landmark victory in the battle against sexual discrimination in the workplace.
The question now is whether female professionals in the UK will feel emboldened by the Goldman case to pursue group action in the Employment Tribunal? Although we obviously have a different system to that of the US, where group litigation in the form of class-action lawsuits is very common, it does seem that group action is now on the rise over here, with a number of FTSE 100-listed banks apparently facing group action over issues such as interest rate manipulation and terrorist financing.
The Goldman case should certainly serve as a warning shot to the UK’s major financial and professional services providers: they have now been put on notice that female employees are increasingly unwilling to put up with a playing field that has been tilted against them for far too long.
Civil courts experience record-breaking backlogs
The UK’s civil courts are facing the worst delays on record, according to the Association of Consumer Support Organisations. Following an analysis of figures on small claims and fast/multi track claims, the consumer group found that the backlog of cases in the civil courts is worse than at any period since 2009. And this despite the fact that the total annual number of claims has reduced by a whopping 24% between 2019 and 2022.
According to separate research conducted by the ACSO with Express Solicitors, the average wait for a civil court to hear a case is 353 days, with a postcode lottery that has resulted in delays of a shocking 829 days in Dartford and a mere 79 days in Blackpool. This reflects the fact that the South East is the worst-performing region, with an average wait time of 462 days, compared to an average of 251 days in the North east, the country’s best-performing region.
Quoted in the Law Gazette, ASCO’s executive director summarises the situation succinctly:
“The MoJ’s own statistics underline that there is a very long road ahead to rescue our civil justice system.
“What is so disappointing is that there is no clear strategy to resolve these issues, let alone published targets to bring delays down to an acceptable level. Where is the plan?
“We urge the MoJ to put more resources into reducing the backlog, including setting concrete targets to ensure there is accountability as well as clarity. Ministers have gone missing in recent years; we hope the new justice secretary makes this a top priority.”
Given the parlous state of the criminal justice system, which is also barely creaking along following the massive cuts to legal aid in recent years, I wouldn’t hold my breath for any major changes to this frankly unacceptable situation this side of a General Election.
The West End outperforms the City in the race for office space
The City is in danger of losing its crown as London’s top business location, with office-space construction in the West End now outpacing the Square Mile for the first time.
According to a biannual survey conducted by Deloitte, the volume of office space being developed in the City – 200,00 sf of new offices and 300,000 sf of refurbished offices in the six months to March – is close to its lowest level in eight years, maybe a sign that the demand for financial services is trailing that of other sectors.
By contrast, the West End – which has a much broader occupier base than the City, including the tech and professional services sectors – has been experiencing a steady recovery in development activity since the pandemic. In fact, at 1.3m sf of volume, the West End is seeing more than twice as much development activity as the Square Mile.
For a more detailed analysis of this story, please see here.
Clydes – the place to work for new mums and dads?
Clyde & Co have raised the bar in terms of the parental leave policy offered to employees by City law firms. Since 1 May, the firm’s staff can take up to 26 weeks of fully paid parental leave; however, those already on leave under the previous policy can also access the new policy with immediate effect.
By implementing this change, Clydes is setting a new standard, as most of its City competitors offer only 12 weeks of fully paid maternity leave, with another 12 weeks of leave on a reduced salary.
The firm has stated that the new policy is gender-neutral and available to both primary and secondary parents and carers with at least 12 months’ service. It will also be available across all of the international firm’s jurisdictions, unless local legislation allows for more leave.
Kate Mathias, Chief People Officer at Clydes, gave the following statement:
“We are pleased to provide one of the most comprehensive offerings in the industry and one that aligns clearly with our values. People are at the heart of our success as a firm, and we want to ensure everyone is supported to build long and fulfilling careers with us. This initiative was developed following conversations with our firm’s gender equality network and through our employee listening activities.
“We also want to ensure as many colleagues as possible benefit from the policy which is why we’re extending this enhanced offering to those who are already new parents or may have recently returned from parental leave.”
It will be interesting to see how other firms respond – as the war for talent rages on, I suspect they won’t be too far behind in offering something similar, as none of the City players will want one of their rivals to stand out from the crowd too much with such an attractive benefit.
Freshfields raises its trainee game
Speaking of the talent war: Freshfields is set to significantly increase its trainee intake by a remarkable 35%, bringing the total number of trainees to 100 by 2025. This move signals an end to the general decline in the number of traineeships offered by the Magic Circle firms since the 2008 financial crisis.
One of the reasons that MC firms have previously shown something of a reluctance in upping their traineeship game is the gaping disparity between the starting salaries offered by these UK firms – currently pegged at £125,000 – and those of US firms with London presences, which range up to £180,000 in the case of Washington-based Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.
The problem is that the Magic Circle and other UK-based commercial firms will go to great expense in training up City lawyers, only to have them poached upon qualification by US firms who will not have committed to training the same volume of trainees as their UK counterparts.
Balancing the risk/reward of investing in a significant trainee programmes is a feature for all major law firms.
Freshfields’ announcement is therefore good news, as it speaks to the firm’s increased confidence in the short- to medium-term future, notwithstanding either the ongoing battle to recruit and retain talent or the still-unsettled economic waters.
This past Monday saw the parliamentary debate of the ForThe100’s petition for the creation of a statutory duty of care for students. As you will all know by now, TBD’s Head of PR and Content, Sophie Hartley (Flint) Flint and I have been heavily involved in the campaign.
Below is a roundup of some of the online coverage of the debate (in addition to making the main news bulletin on most channels):
Simplifying the SRA diversity data process
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It’s already been nearly two years since the SRA last required every regulated law firm in the UK to report on their firm’s diversity data. And now this biennial reporting obligation is rapidly coming around again, namely between the 26th of June and the 23rd of July.
Here at TBD Marketing Ltd, we know that many law firms try to tackle this task by using Word documents and asking each employee to fill out the form.
But we also know that this can be a long and complicated process that often proves to be a real pain in the fundament.
Fear not, because we’ve solved this problem for our client law firms by simplifying the process:
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