Lawyers were once notorious for spending long hours at their desks compared to other professionals. But a new generation is revolting against this culture of presenteeism. Emma Heuston, author of The Tracksuit Economy, says there’s an Ugg boot-clad workforce on the march, tearing off the desk shackles for a more efficient way of working.
Whether they like to admit it or not, many lawyers still regard working from home as “shirking from home”.
“Oh, you want to work from home? Do you have an appointment?” your boss might ask. “Is your child sick? Are you sick?”
It’s as if the only valid reason for filing work from outside the office is if you’re tending to parental duties or are struck down with a debilitating bout of gastro. Never mind if you simply work more efficiently or find it easier to concentrate away from the open-plan office.
All of Australia’s “Big Six” firms, and many mid-tiers and boutiques, spruik “flexible working” as a drawcard of working for them. But the January 2017 Law Partnership Survey by the Australian Financial Review found that just 10 per cent of the almost 3,100 partners surveyed worked part-time or flexible hours. Seven of the 29 partners in Sydney firm TessCox Lawyers, or 24 per cent, reported working flexibly. Just eight of the 174 partners at top-tier firm Clayton Utz, less than 5 per cent, did the same.
LegalVision Practice Leader and lawyer Emma Heuston believes much of the legal profession’s flexible work rhetoric pays “lip-service” to the idea, without truly embracing it.
“I remember applying for jobs that advertised ‘flexible working arrangements’,” says Heuston, who works remotely from her home in Ballina. “Often when you actually get there, working from home is frowned upon. It’s seen as bludging off or that you’re not working as hard. Or, you have to keep it this big secret and not share it with the team. It’s like you need to have a reason. It can’t just be that you work more efficiently or enjoy working from home.”