Flexibility and #HumanFirst: The heart of successful legal teams

Evidence is mounting that the legal profession needs to rethink culture and traditional working practices to prioritise the wellbeing of its most valuable resource: it’s people.

A survey by legal mental health charity LawCare and UK academics recently unveiled some alarming statistics. Participants – over 1,700 legal professionals – averaged a score of 42.2 on the Oldenburg Burnout Inventory. This corresponds to a ‘high risk of burnout’. Also, 60.7% of participants said they had experienced anxiety ‘often, very often or all of the time’ over the past year. Commenting on the findings, LawCare’s CEO Elizabeth Rimmer called for transformation and action: “Those working practices in the law that undermine mental health need to change. We want this research to be the catalyst for us to come together as a profession to create that change, to create a culture in law that puts the law’s greatest asset – it’s people – first.”

It comes as no surprise in a post pandemic world that flexible work is a hot topic. LinkedIn has seen a staggering 362% growth in member posts about flexible work over the last two years. LinkedIn’s Global Talent Trends report also found that organisations that have embraced flexibility stand out to job seekers. While job seekers are viewing nearly twice as many job posts before applying, posts mentioning culture get 67% more likes, shares, comments and clicks compared to average posts.

Is it time for legal teams to take a more innovative approach to legal resourcing to fully embrace flexible working practices that put people first? Tapping into the skills, experience and energy of the flexible legal community – from interim legal lawyers and specialist counsel to paralegals – can provide a valuable way to provide your legal team the support they need to alleviate stress and maintain a better work-life balance, and enable you to leverage top talent, make an impact, and help your organisation build competitive advantage.

4 Advantages for general counsel and legal teams

#1 Optimise efficiency

Legal departments are under pressure to operate more efficiently. A global survey by EY Law and the Harvard Law School Center found that in-house legal workloads are set to grow by a quarter over the next three years – yet 88% of general counsel are planning to cut costs due to pressure from the board. Similarly, 74% of legal teams surveyed by PwC UK said their workloads were increasing while budgets and headcounts were plateauing or shrinking.

Tapping into the skills, experience and energy of the freelance and interim legal community is one way stay ahead of increasing workloads and access expertise swiftly. Bringing in flexible legal consultants from Obelisk Support allows leading online grocer Ocado to effortlessly scale up legal services as needed. “Whether we have permanent staff out on leave, planned projects that we don’t want to distract the core team with or unforeseen new work, having a relationship with Obelisk means that we can quickly and easily increase our productivity in line with the business’s requirements,” explains Jonathan Wiseman, Deputy General Counsel at Ocado.

“The point is for us to anticipate and deliver on what the wider business needs, in the most efficient way possible. This means we look carefully at the skills and expertise we need to deliver the work required and plan ahead to make sure we have the optimal resources in place.”

#2 Redirect resources toward higher-value work

Another issue weighing down in-house legal teams is an increase in low-value work. Law department leaders surveyed in the EY/Harvard study reported that one out of every five in-house counsel hours is currently dedicated to low-complexity, repetitive or routine tasks. As many as 87% added that their teams are spending too much time on this type of work.

Bringing in a flexible paralegal consultant to manage routine processes such as drafting and amending documents and contracts, conducting legal research, and handling compliance tasks can create more time for in-house legal teams to focus on core work and/or priority projects. For instance, the UK’s development finance organisation, the CDC Group, handed routine tasks over to an Obelisk paralegal so the team could focus on their core roles. “The key advantage of having an Obelisk paralegal on our team has been to create extra capacity and allow the internal team to prioritise critical work,” explains Andy Wallace, Deputy Chief Legal Officer, CDC Group

#3 Create opportunities for general counsels to help with board level influence

For general counsels who have the skills and knowledge to help guide their organisations through times of change, there is a great opportunity to become an essential adviser to the board. However, when they are bogged down by routine work, general counsels struggle to find the headspace for strategic initiatives.

With a more flexible approach to resourcing the legal team and the ability to pull in additional support when needed, general counsels can prove their value as trusted advisors to the business and provide a much needed perspective on how to manage risk and navigate the changing regulatory and commercial landscape.

#4 Improve wellbeing in the teame

Now that the pandemic has opened our minds to more flexible ways of working, it is easier to acknowledge that the intense workloads and long hours that were deemed the norm in the past are doing more harm than good to the legal profession. A LawCare study found that 60.7% of participants had experienced anxiety and 28.9% had experienced physical symptoms arising from work-related stress in the last 12 months, with 22% saying they felt unable to cope.

While this is a complex issue to resolve, legal team leaders can make a difference by offering their teams more support when workloads amplify and creating workplace cultures that allow the individuals on their team to maintain a better work-life balance without compromising their career goals.

The legal profession also stands to benefit

A more flexible, #HumanFirst approach to legal work is an excellent way to ensure accomplished talent continue contributing to the profession after a career break or during times of limited availability. It begins to cut through the traditional structures and attitudes that have excluded people from the profession, or held them back from progressing in their legal careers. This includes women who have felt forced to choose between work and children or other family responsibilities.

This way of thinking also helps to make the legal profession more attractive to younger generations, who – according to the Deloitte Global 2021 Millennial and Gen Z Survey – believe flexibility is the most critical employee characteristic for successful businesses.

Importantly, more importance is being placed on a culture of fairness, equity and inclusion that encourages people to bring their whole selves to work in the legal community to foster wellbeing and create a more diverse profession representative of the society it serves. By embracing flexible resourcing, legal teams can be a part of this change by providing more opportunities for people to participate in meaningful legal work, regardless of their identity, background or age.

How Obelisk can help

    • A tailored solution: Our range of service models can be tailored to your legal teams’ needs – from supporting on a major transaction or one-off project, to cover for holiday, parental or sick leave or providing access to a virtual legal team to support your business through growth or change.
    • Unrivalled expertise: Our network of 2000+ consultants spans highly qualified freelance and interim counsel typically City-firm trained and selected for their in-house experience, freelance paralegals and freelance and interim legal operations specialists – so you can be confident work will be delivered to the highest quality by lawyers experienced in hitting the ground running.
    • True choice: Whether people by the hour or projects by the hour – our talented lawyers and paralegals can do as much or little work as you need, giving you and your team breathing space to focus on more value-add work.

What makes us different?

Specialists in flexible placements

With over a decade of experience in managing flexible placements, our specialist knowledge on reaping the benefits of flexible work is unrivalled.

The Obelisk #HumanFirst founding principle

We believe nobody should have to choose between life and work. We’re passionate about making legal work more inclusive and to spread the word about the benefits of flexible work. We set ourselves apart through our commitment to putting people first and focusing on what our clients and consultants really need to succeed – which is why 90% of our clients come back to us again and again.


Using our proprietary technology, we can swiftly match you with the right expertise to best deliver against your specific need in terms of skills and previous experience. When the British Business Bank, for example, was responsible for rolling out new loan programmes across the economy as quickly and efficiently as possible at the start of the pandemic, Obelisk provided the additional legal resources needed to manage their increased workload and tight deadline. “Flexibility and speed were key for us in this situation. Obelisk understood our needs and found a solution immediately, adding extra resources to our legal team,” notes a Bank spokesperson.

In Conclusion

We are at a crossroads. To play an active and meaningful role in the evolution of the legal profession and build competitive advantage for their own businesses, legal teams need to think beyond outdated constructs and meet people’s needs for increased flexibility and support.

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