Flexi-working latest: Macfarlanes, Freshfields and White & Case join the ‘home-desking’ movement

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By Thomas Connelly on

But is the hot City trend of “agile working” simply a token gesture?


City outfits Macfarlanes, Freshfields and White & Case are the latest firms to hop aboard the flexible-working bandwagon and allow their lawyers to work from the comfort of their own homes.

Single-office corporate outfit Macfarlanes confirmed that from August lawyers within its corporate, litigation, private client and tax teams will have the option to work remotely for one day per fortnight.

Managing partner Julian Howard said:

Changes in technology and the way our clients work are altering the legal workplace. This initiative responds to these changes as well as the views of our own lawyers. Our aim is to give our lawyers more flexibility without impacting client service.

Meanwhile, magic circle outfit Freshfields, who only last week unveiled an astonishing 26% pay hike to £85,000 for its fresh-faced associates, confirmed that fee earners would be able to work on an “agile basis for up to 20% of their time”.

Finally, in this latest round of firms to embrace flexible working, New York-headquartered White & Case revealed that it was allowing all its City-based lawyers and staff to work from home on an ad-hoc basis, thereby becoming one of the first US firms in London to implement a permanent agile working program.

All of the above means that an abundance of City firms (including Berwin Leighton Paisner, Dentons, Mishcon de Reya and Nabarro) now offer a work from home option for their lawyers and others are considering joining them.

International giant Mayer Brown and elite magic circle firm Slaughter and May are both in the process of piloting schemes. Mayer Brown is testing the waters within its busy construction department and will make a firm decision after feedback from staff in July. Meanwhile Slaughters — who revealed a muted pay rise for its junior lawyer talent last week — is trialling a policy that allows associates and partners to work from home one day per fortnight.

Fellow magic circle outfit Clifford Chance confirmed that it would support and encourage partners who wish to work from home and Herbert Smith Freehills took the decision to make flexible working permanent last summer after positive feedback from staff. Lawyers at the firm now have the option to work from home one day a week

Olswang — which is in the process of a complete office refit that will create an new open plan environment — will provide flexible working for all staff by March 2017. And Shearman & Sterling — who implemented an agile policy for its lawyers across the pond — revealed they were considering a similar policy for its London-based cohort pending the outcome of an internal review.

But despite the wave of enthusiasm from City firms, Legal Cheek readers remain a little more skeptical. One claimed the policy created more problems than it solved, commenting:

Two of our solicitors work out of office and it’s a f*cking nightmare. Getting correspondence to them, dealing with calls, dealing with an absolute sh*tstorm if they decide to turn their phones off.

While another suggested it was less about lawyer welfare and more to do with billable target hours, saying:

I’m not sure why the City hasn’t woken up to the fact that their employees will bill much more if they don’t have to factor a commute into the working day.