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Law is often associated with long hours and late night deadlines, not a particularly attractive option if you have just had a baby. Gretchen Scott, an associate in commercial law at international law firm SJ Berwin, though, has been able to negotiate a tweak in her hours to allow her to keep working full-time and to have the flexibility she needs to be home in time to get her baby to bed.
Since having her baby Nate six months ago she has worked 8.30am-4.30pm four days a week and from home on a Friday. In fact, she is less than a month back from maternity leave, but says within half a day she felt as if she had never been away. “I reintegrated very quickly,” she says. It helps that her boss is very supportive and keeps reminding her to work her hours and that her mum has come over from New Zealand to look after Nate. “I know that he is okay because he is with her and that makes me feel confident being back at work,” she says.
When her mum goes back to New Zealand next year, Gretchen plans to employ a nanny. “The pressures of law mean that you have to use nannies so you can be as flexible as possible. Nursery hours are often too strict.”
Although she knew that she was only going to take six months off when she went on maternity leave, it was only when Nate was born that Gretchen realised that if she worked her normal hours on top of her 45-minute commute from Fulham to the office in central London, she would hardly see him during the week.. She asked if she could slightly change her starting and leaving times so now she is home by 5.15pm and has almost two hours with him before bedtime. She also has a bit of time with him in the morning before leaving for work at 7.30am.
Working from home on Fridays helps. “I cut out one and a half hours of travel. It seemed a bit senseless to be travelling and reading the newspaper for that amount of time instead of being with Nate,” she says, adding that she directs her work phone through to her mobile so that clients will have no idea she is not in the office. “It is a seamless process,” she says.
Working from home means she can be more flexible with her hours and can focus on things like writing articles or drafting contracts. Her mum looks after Nate and she works in a separate room, but can emerge for a longer lunch. She can also catch up on work later in the evening when Nate is in bed. She adds that she can also swap around the day she works from home if she is needed in the office on a Friday for face to face meetings with clients. “Flexible working is about being flexible on both sides,” she says. This is useful in a pressured profession like law.
“Law firms are often willing to give people flexible options and want to be seen to offer flexible working,” she says, “but law is very demanding, especially in a City environment. The focus for clients is naturally on their deals and, in a service-orientated business such as law, we have to accept and accommodate that.
She thinks it is up to her to make people aware of her hours and make it all work, although she says her boss keeps reminding her to leave on time and several other people in the office work flexibly. She says she doesn’t answer the phone after 4.15pm, but admits that she is only newly back into the job and has not been tested yet. Plus the recession mean things in the City are relatively quiet at the moment. If the demands on her increase, Gretchen, who came over to the UK from New Zealand in 2002 and has worked at SJ Berwin since 2004, says she will just have to log on from home in the evenings. This shouldn’t be a problem because her partner, also a lawyer, will be around and can take care of Nate, although he sleeps now from 7pm to 7am. “It’s much easier when you have a cooperative baby,” she laughs.