With the billable hour and a culture that is still dominated by presenteeism, how can you progress in your legal career and succeed as a part time lawyer?
It’s a question that should be more and more urgently posed, as legal profession locks out so much talent due to incapability with changing lifestyles and family commitments. Far too many lawyers are still choosing to leave law altogether as there appears to be little alternative to the long hours demanded by firms. Dana Denis-Smith created the model of Obelisk Support in 2010 because she was staggered at the number of women leaving the profession when they started a family and how little employers did to stop them. In an interview on part time work in the Law Gazette, she identified that there is often a negative correlation between commitment and working part-time, though that is something not unique to law firms.
Thanks to those who are pushing for change in legal industry work culture, there are in-roads being made and it is possible to continue to build your experience and reputation as an ambitious legal professional on a part time basis. Portfolio careers, shared roles and reduced hours are becoming more common in the industry, and it is perfectly possible to succeed as a part time lawyer. Here’s how to approach it…
#1. Work Out a Mutually Beneficial Work Pattern
It is important to work out with your employers a part-time structure that works around both of your needs. You will need to have this conversation very early on in the process to get to a decision that best for both of you. For example, do you need to have shorter days, or would a shorter working week suit better? What days of the week will you be in office? Will you be doing the same hour slots every day or will you need to change between morning/afternoon hours on certain days? Take a look at your typically busiest contact times in the office and incorporate this into your new working pattern.
#2. Realise Your Value a Part-Time Lawyer
If you feel the need to apologise for your working hours, stop that immediately! Having confidence in the value of the hours you put in is key to making part-time work, work. Remember the amount of hours you work has been mutually agreed–they want to keep your talent, you want to keep progressing in your career while keeping balance in your life. The quality of work and character that you bring to your clients is what matters. Own your part-time lawyer career status and remind yourself of the reasons why you took the decision in the first place.
#3. Manage Expectations and Set Boundaries
One of the regular problems that may occur during the course of working part-time as a lawyer is the reluctance to speak up and say that you simply don’t have time for more work. As a part-time worker, you may feel because you work ‘less’ than a full-time colleague, it is your responsibility to pick up any extra tasks that need to be covered. It is better to be firm about the hours you work and say you simply won’t have time to do it within them, rather than over-promise and leave everyone scrambling to deal with the problem.
#4. Communicate Consistently
In the Law Gazette interview, Denis-Smith says the key to part time work ‘is to be very communicative, so those you work with know how you work and when you work and buy into that pattern.’ You will need to get used to reminding people of your hours and schedule, and setting out-of-office emails and voicemails, so people are not expecting to hear from you when you are not in the office.
#5. Increase your Efficiency
Having fewer hours to accomplish what you need to do makes you realise just how precious your time is, and can present great opportunities to overhaul the way you work. Making use of organisation apps and tools, eliminating unnecessary meetings, and approaching your work in a different way can make you a much more effective lawyer and can actually help propel you forward in your career. It is the perfect opportunity to get ahead of the curve with new developments and trends in legal technology!
Being a successful part-time lawyer, much like being a full-time lawyer, will not be a walk in the park and will come with its own challenges. But as more firms and legal consultancies offer more flexible working options to meet the demands of their employees, it will no longer be a straight choice between your career progression or a balanced life. Both can co-exist as long as the will to retain and nurture legal talent remains on both sides.