Correcting the balance: how one law firm is offering solicitors genuine flexibility

In a recent study commissioned by the consultancy Timewise, it was revealed that only 9% of job adverts from the legal sector included any mention of flexible working. In a profession which has an ingrained culture of long hours and a poor record of achieving a healthy work-life balance, it seems that flexible working opportunities for lawyers are few and far between. But Harper James Solicitors, a modern business law firm which offers a unique subscription-based model, is demonstrating that flexibility can be achieved – even while offering low costs to clients.

With flexible working in high demand amongst job seekers – an estimated 87% of employees want to work flexibly – the legal sector is clearly lagging behind in offering workers what they want. However, traditional law firms often aren’t built with part-time, home-working, shift work or job sharing in mind. So how to solve the problem of the unbalanced life of a solicitor?

In 2014, at just 3 years PQE, lawyer Toby Harper set up Harper James Solicitors with the twin aims of providing genuinely affordable legal support to new and growing businesses and offering lawyers a new way to work.

Harper James’ solicitors work remotely from their preferred location, whether that’s home or in office space. Their workload is almost solely focused on the legal work they were trained to do – all support activities, such as legal assistance, administration, invoicing, business development and marketing, are completed by professionals in their respective fields. Thanks to the adoption of market-leading time-recording software and cloud-based data management systems, lawyers are able to decide on their own working patterns, can access all necessary files and connect with colleagues when they need. All of this, when coupled with the freelance nature of the role, adds up to a truly flexible legal workplace.

Toby Harper feels strongly about addressing the work-life balance in law. “When I was setting up the company, I saw that the lifestyle provided by some traditional law firms was causing a lot of experienced lawyers to switch off from their jobs. I wanted to recruit the very best people – the majority of our lawyers have previously worked for a top 100 law firm or in-house at large international businesses – without having to ask them to work excessively or to move from their homes to factor in a commute.

“Flexibility and accessibility for all was the idea that ultimately led to the formation of our remote operating model. Our low overheads enable us to offer legal services at a fraction of the cost of City firms. So, as a result, our clients receive incredibly high-quality legal advice at affordable prices, all whilst our lawyers are given the space to practice law, relieved of administration and management duties.”

The primary benefit for many of the solicitors in the team is the ability to spend time with their families or on separate personal projects, whilst earning guaranteed long-term income. Dispute Resolution Solicitor Mark Gudgeon is open about the impact the role has had on his life: “Working at Harper James has profoundly changed my family life for the better – I get to see my kids much more these days, and as committed to my work and clients as I am, working flexibly really does put important things into perspective. The ability to work flexibly on the cases and projects I choose to handle, whilst still earning guaranteed income, has been wholly beneficial.”

As flexible working becomes more desirable – and more of a standard – across a range of industries, it remains to be seen whether the legal sector as a whole will adapt. In the meantime, Harper James Solicitors is proof that a law firm can work successfully whilst providing its lawyers with flexible working and an excellent work/life balance.

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