Samantha Hamilton-Davies from Berwin Leighton Paisner on how homeworking can work in the legal sector.
Samantha Hamilton-Davies is one of the BLP lawyers working in its homeworking team based out of the firm’s Manchester office. She has been working as a Due Diligence Lawyer at Berwin Leighton Paisner for just over half a year, doing a four-day week from home. “It’s a very flexible role,” she says. “If I need to go and pick my daughter up from nursery during the day I can come home and do more work at night. It makes life a lot easier and I don’t waste time on commuting.”
The law firm recently won the workingmums.co.uk Top Employer Award for Talent Attraction for its flexible recruitment policies, which included being upfront about flexible working in job adverts and the firm’s pilot of home-based working in a sector not known for flexible working..
Samantha came across the job at BLP while she was on maternity leave from her previous job and had her interview a week before returning from maternity leave. “I had put work to the back of my mind during my maternity leave until a month before I was due back and I started to panic,” she says. “Then the opportunity at BLP came up.”
Although there was some flexibility in her previous job – she did one day a week from home while she was pregnant – she had a long commute since her office was in Liverpool and she lives in Manchester. Having been offered the job at BLP, she handed in her notice almost as soon as she went back.
The homeworking pilot at BLP started about two years ago and there are 10 lawyers working from home at the moment.
“It is fantastic,” she says. “I have access to everything I would have in the office, such as the intranet. The only thing I don’t have at home is a printer as our team is paperless. The support is brilliant.” Remote workers have access to IT people, a knowledge development and research database and a document support unit which, for instance, helps to format documents.
They also have Microsoft Lync for instant messaging, two big screens, a video phone and mobile access to the remote desktop.
Samantha says she had anticipated being paperless creating a huge challenge, but that has not been the case. “Our industry can be quite old school,” she says. “We like to have important-looking documents and leases to hand, and I was worried about spending a lot of time staring at the screen reading long documents.” However, BLP has technology tools which help with the reading process, including software that converts older documents to word and can compare documents so lawyers don’t have to spend a lot of time leafing through them.
Samantha’s daughter is in nursery three days a week and has one day with Samantha’s mother. She says all the remote team are female and most are in a similar situation to her, with young children. “We help each other out,” says Samantha. “That makes for a strong team dynamic. We do a lot of project work so people can pick things up from each other. It lends itself well to working mums with young children.”
The team support is vital, she adds, and the team is spread across the UK. One woman lives in Belfast, another in North Wales. Though they only meet up monthly at the Manchester office where the Paralegals and Associates work, they are on the phone to each other constantly or on conference calls. “There is a definite sense of a network,” says Samantha.
She says BLP is very inclusive and she thinks working from home will help her career progression. “I was worried that if I stayed in a traditional office role that I would stagnate as I wouldn’t be able to do the client development and long hours necessary to advance up the career ladder. This gives me a different path for progression as we offer a more bespoke service. We advance our skills, do high quality work and our work is visible to Partners,” she says. “It’s a massive opportunity for me.”
Asked what she would have done if the homeworking pilot was not available, she says she thinks she might have eventually left the legal profession. “That makes me more committed,” she says. “The team is determined to make this role work.”
*All the winners of the workingmums.co.uk Top Employer Awards are featured in its free Best Practice Report which aims to share what the best employers are doing and to inspire others.