Making flexible working work

Nicola FulfordWhen my first child was 18 months old, I made what some might consider to be an unusual decision. I chose to give up what was a relatively sedate job as an in-house lawyer, to return to the fast-paced stress of law firm life.

Law firms have a reputation for being inflexible, with lawyers working long hours to respond to client needs. As a result, many leave private practice in search of more predictable hours and the promise of perhaps a better work/life balance. Few go in the other direction! But I missed the energising environment that you find in the world of law firms, and the particular type of team spirit you get there.

When I moved jobs, I managed to negotiate a flexible working arrangement. I learned quickly that making flexible working a positive experience for everyone meant that I had to be pretty nimble and really hone my organisational skills. This included being flexible around which would be my non-working day, whilst making sure that I still managed to keep some boundaries around my work/life balance. This can be particularly tough in a client-focused business with tight deadlines, but with good planning and communications I managed to make it work.

Following the birth of my second child, I was approached about a partnership opportunity at another law firm, Kemp Little, to head up and build a data protection and privacy practice for them. This was doubly challenging for me since I was not only stepping up to partner level, but also building a new practice area at the same time. Whilst the firm already had flexible working arrangements at all levels, they’d never had a new partner join on that basis.

Thanks to a strong and supportive team, good communication and great technology (it is a tech law firm after all) I have shown that building a new practice under a part-time working arrangement is viable.

Kemp Little has a very open approach to flexible working and always sets out to simply find the best person for the role. If an employee happens to have a flexible working arrangement, then we make sure it is manageable for them and their colleagues. Motivation for flexible working at Kemp Little is not just family-driven though - one of our lawyers does this in order to pursue a passion for Egyptology. With numerous proof points now, flexible working does not seem like a ‘special circumstance’ anymore but an accepted working arrangement.

Making the professional-side of flexible working function efficiently is only half of the equation. I could not make any of this work without the full support of my husband and the additional back-up of some awesome grandparents – plus I am lucky enough to have a well-organised class rep at my daughter’s school whose timely reminders help make sure that not too much slips through the gaps there either.

Flexible working keeps me on my toes in many ways. Professionally I don’t ever have the luxury of feeling like I have clear breathing space. My working hours might be flexible but you can’t pro-rate your investment in your team or the time needed to keep abreast of the latest developments and maintain your professional profile. That said, it’s a balancing act that is well worth the effort; I have a really interesting working life and I love having more time with my children who help me enjoy life’s simple delights.

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