Getting nostalgic about flexible working

Why stubborn attitudes towards shorter working weeks are laughable

‘The Four Yorkshiremen” is a comedy sketch from an old TV show called At Last It’s 1948 (stick with us, we’ll come back to 2023 very soon). In the sketch, four successful men enjoying post-prandial cigars and wine parody nostalgic conversations about their humble beginnings. In turn, they try to outdo each other with increasingly absurd accounts of their deprived childhoods. Please adopt a Yorkshire accent to squeeze every stereotypical ounce of comedy from the following:

‘We lived for three months in a rolled-up newspaper in a septic tank. Every morning, we’d have to get up at 6am, clean out rolled-up newspaper, eat a crust of stale bread, then we’d have to work 14 hours at mill, day-in, day-out, for sixpence a week and, when we got home, Dad would thrash us to sleep with a belt,’ says one.

‘Luxury,’ retorts another. And on it goes

If you can accept historical stereotyping, the sketch is as funny today as it was when it was first shown on TV in 1967.

Jump forward to 2023, however, and the debate has advanced from Yorkshire to become a global discussion about a developing so-called ‘workstyle’ revolution.

And it was a comment we read that brought the Four Yorkshiremen sketch to mind:

‘Only six days a week? Ee, when I were a lad, we’d work 25 hours a day, eight days a week- an’ we’d to pay for t’ privilege.’

Law firms remain reluctant to change

The comment was written in response to a Law Society article on the legal profession’s reluctance to give four-day working weeks a try. The article’s standfirst sums up the whole story very well:

‘Long hours can lead to burnout, shortening careers and making for worse law. Yet legal firms remain resistant to the concept of a four-day week, despite evidence that working smarter can bring real benefits’

Why? Why are law firms so determined to act like the stereotypical Yorkshiremen of yesteryear? The article provides some of the motives:

‘Sceptics can reel off a long list of problems with marrying a four-day week with the legal profession. Would clients accept their solicitor being off when they need them? How would a four-day week tally with the five-day courts and tribunals service? Would it apply only to senior staff and leave out support staff such as cleaners and receptionists whose services are needed every day? And, perhaps most importantly to some lawyers, what happens to the hallowed billable hour?’

Smart choice offered up north

Enter a spokeswoman from a firm in Yorkshire (of all places). Laura Clapton says Consilia Legal has been allowing its lawyers to work a four-day week for a year:

“By working smarter, our team are still able to achieve their overall objectives but in fewer hours and without any expectation that those hours ‘lost’ will need to be made up elsewhere,” she says.

While we applaud what Consilia Legal has done, we wonder whether the four-day working week can go even further. If it works well, why can’t this flexibility go further and allow lawyers the autonomy to choose every aspect of their role?

Offering individual choice

At Setfords, we believe it’s about individual choice. Some of our lawyers do indeed work five days a week. Even those who don’t may work eight-hour days. But that’s their choice. Hours, days, location aren’t prescribed by us: they’re agreed with us. We don’t know how much energy lawyers’ children or grandchildren demand of them, or their hobbies and travel plans. Only they can really know that.

Beyond that total flexibility on time, we also offer our lawyers control over the other aspects of their jobs. With no targets or billable hours set by the firm, it takes some of the pressure off. And, we don’t just dump cases on our lawyers; they are free to choose to work with the clients they want to work with. They’re also able to work from anywhere in the UK, and most of the rest of the world without impacting their clients, thanks to our extensive remote working technology.

So yes, we would say that our model works very well for us. It’s allowed us to grow year-on-year since we began in 2006. We’re now a firm of over 500 consultants based all over the country. Each of our lawyers has experienced the conventional model used – and stubbornly stuck to – by many law firms. Each one of those lawyers left the constraints of those firms to gain more balance in their lives.

And as we grow, so too do our consultants:

“I like that I can fit in my work at different hours,” says Chris Sexton, who manages to fit all his legal work around the three of four long runs he does each week. (Yes, that way round.) So, if the weather looks tickety-boo when Chris pulls back the curtains in the morning, he can grab his trainers. If the sky looks as gloomy as a conventional partner’s face, he can crack on with some work and run in the evening. Doesn’t that make more sense than doing it the other way around?

A few home truths about commuting

Tim Westhead sums it up another way:

“Work less, live more,” says our pithy commercial property lawyer:

“I think having lifestyle balance is what brings happiness in life and having commuted for 35 years up to London, and not getting home until eight o’clock at night, you really appreciate being able to work from home and work around clients’ requirements. Now I work about three days a week and can fit in what I want to do – I love to spend time with my grandchildren, plus I can mix in my sporting activities and working here on the smallholding.”

As well as great earnings potential, you can see that Setfords offers you the gift of time. If you have neither grandchildren nor marathons to fill that time up with, we can highly recommend some very good comedy sketches to watch on YouTube.

Is consultancy for me?

If you want to find out more about becoming a consultant with us, get in touch. We are happy to conduct interviews remotely for suitable, UK-qualified candidates with five or more years’ experience. If you’re a good fit, you’ll be joining a team that was created for lawyers to do their best work.

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        Currently, we can only work with lawyers qualified under one of these regulatory bodies