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Flexible working was a key element of The Legal Partners’ business model from the offset. Richard and Philippa Mullett say flexible working has helped them to attract high quality staff and to build a close relationship with their clients who wanted them to be flexible and accessible. “Our legal service is designed to give CEOs, CFOs and HR Directors in the UK the advantage of a right hand, experienced legal advisor, when they need it,” says Richard.
He feels operating a flexible working model works for everyone. “Both the clients get the right legal service they need and the lawyers get excellent work and experience without commuting to London and see their family each day,” he states.
Richard worked initially for Slaughter and May and HSBC Investment Bank, moving in house to O2 and then to Neos Networks where he was legal director before setting up The Legal Partners in 2004. It was this experience which meant he knew what legal services growing businesses needed.
The firm specialises in providing legal advice on:
1. UK employment law for HR directors,
2. UK business law for CEOs and Chief Financial Officers
3. UK Import/Export law for UK Asia business
Philippa, the firm’s marketing director, says most of the firm’s legal staff work flexibly, but trainees tend to want fixed hours. All the team, both lawyers and non-lawyers, have worked in business as well as in law firms which means they understand the needs of growing SMEs from first-hand experience.
The advent of technology has meant the firm has really benefited from its flexible model. The Legal Partners can, and often do work from their clients’ offices, from the firm’s HQ in Richmond, London, from their partner offices in Singapore or from home. They use Skype, for instance, to talk to clients and colleagues and this has enabled them to expand to Asia. To their overseas clients they provide advice on how to do business in the UK and UK employment law.
The expansion to Asia came as a result of UK-based clients they were working with wanting to export to Asia. A member of the UK Government’s Trade and Investment (UKTI) Trade Advisory Network, the firm now has partner law firms in Singapore, Malaysia, other ASEAN countries and China (Guangzhou), advisingUK clients who are looking to export or import from Asia and Asian companies investing in the UK.
Three partners work on the Asian side of the business. The firm is currently looking to expand into the US and grow its Asian clients.
Several of The Legal Partners’ staff are working parents and there is a good gender mix on their board.
Richard says this works well for the firm. “We find that lawyers who have children at school and are very well organised work well in our team and in the way we deliver our service. This naturally means that women lawyers are well represented in the business.”
It also shapes the way The Legal Partners delivers its services. For example, its HR Network, a group for local HR Director clients – many of whom are working mums – to discuss employment law, is run at a location which is near the local schools and at a time which enables attendees to get to the school gate on time afterwards.
The firm’s first recruit was a lawyer from the banking industry who had taken a break to be with her children. Richard says the firm’s flexible model and its project-based focus means it can work around issues such as maternity leave with undue impact on business. For instance, if a person is going on maternity leave their work can be scaled back beforehand and no new projects taken on and when they come back it can be scaled back up again.
Another working mum on the team is Abigail Oprey who started working at The Legal Partners in 2010. She had been working in an in house role advising on employment matters, including settlement agreements, as well as personal injury matters in the education sector as a Regional Solicitor for the National Union of Teachers. Working in house meant she had greater flexibility than in a City firm. “I was protected to a point from what happens at private law firms where it is difficult to work flexibly,” she says, adding that she has friends who were at City firms but stopped working after having children. She herself has three children, aged 14, 11 and six, and says flexible working, including job shares, has enabled her to stay in work throughout. “A bit of flexibility on both sides means it can work,” she says. She currently works a “portfolio” career of two different part-time jobs, one of which is for The Legal Partners.
She says the move from personal injury law to employment law has helped with work life issues since litigation-based personal injury work tends to be very intensive when a case is nearing conclusion. The nature of the employment law work she does at The Legal Partners, and the ability do this work locally, has allowed Abigail to take on the additional role with the firm as it tends to be more project-based and the projects are more defined and can be done at set times. “It doesn’t spill out in the same way that litigation work does,” she says.
The Legal Partners offers different forms of flexible working, including term time work or part time and school hours working. Abigail says: “Flexible working works both ways and benefits all. I feel there is trust in me to get on with the job so I’m not worried if I have to ask for a change, for instance, to work from home when a child is off sick. In return, I will do a check of emails when I am not ‘working’ to keep on top of things. I don’t feel that’s expected of me, but I am happy to reciprocate when flexible approach is shown towards me when required.”
She adds that the key to flexible working is communication and trust.
Philippa says The Legal Partners finds employing portfolio workers like Abigail is beneficial for the firm. The company’s finance officer, who has been with the company from the start, also has more than one job. “They enjoy the variety they have in their work and we value the flexibility of mind they bring to their work,” she says.
Abigail adds that she had been in her other job for a while and her role at The Legal Partners offered her an opportunity to expand the client base she advised to include businesses and employers as well employees, and to advise on additional areas of law without giving up those she had long enjoyed.
The Legal Partners advises companies on the latest developments in employment law. This includes clarifying Shared Parental Leave which Abigail describes as “complicated and bureaucratic and not very user friendly”. The new law applies to children born or adopted after 5th April.
Richard says organisations need to plan ahead for its impact, but many appear to be putting off thinking about it.
Flexible working legislation is also an area employers seek advice on, particularly since the legislation extended to all employees from last June. Richard says the best arrangements are ones where there has been a two-way discussion about the impact of a request on the business and how it can be best accommodated.
The company advises HR clients to plan for flexible work requests, including looking at the next generation of cloud-based technology that is coming. “It’s an extra bit of strategic thinking,” says Philippa, adding that she knows of a company that had to close down one branch because everyone had been granted flexible working and there was no longer sufficient cover for the department to meet the needs of the businesses. At The Legal Partners, everyone can work flexibly as soon as they are able to be efficient, well organised and proficient with technology.
“The rewards of flexible working are tremendous, but it needs to be planned properly at the top and to be practised well,” says Philippa.