Lawyers and the Rise of Work From Anywhere

There was a time when going to work as a lawyer meant going to the office. Those days are over. But is the new generation of remote workers making the most of the new normal? Setfords’ co-CEO Guy Setford explains why the majority of the legal industry is yet to embrace the true benefits of a better way of working.

On a scale never before seen in Britain, our workforce, including our lawyers, have tasted what it’s like to work remotely. And many will never want to return to the office again. The tremendous benefits of avoiding a commute and spending more time with family and friends has, for many, been life-changing.

And yet, I believe only a handful have grasped the true potential of this new world.

For more than 10 years we have a run a law firm with remote working at its heart. Setfords’ consultant lawyers were among the first in the industry to see there is a better way of working. Not only can our consultants work where they want, they also enjoy a much larger fee share and set their own targets. It’s meant a better life for them and a better service for their customers. But because of this experience, I’ve watched with slight dismay at how remote working is being interpreted in the post-COVID-19 world.

Re-evaluating life

Probably more than anything else in recent memory, the coronavirus pandemic has prompted more people to re-evaluate what they want from life. Enter Emma Jones. Emma is a conveyancing solicitor who, until July 2020, was working hard for a conventional law firm.

As lockdown tightened its grip across the UK last year, Emma’s challenges grew. In tandem with most employees, she had to get used to new ways of working while maintaining targets set by her employers and adhering to a rigid schedule.

Every day is not a school day

But lockdown was not just an inconvenience for workers: it also affected school children. Including Emma’s nine-year-old son, George, who has learning difficulties.

While many may have become overwhelmed by the challenges she faced in the first few months of the UK’s first lockdown, Emma saw it as an opportunity. All she really needed was an employer that would allow her to manage work around the love and support she needed to dedicate to her son, George.

True freedom is about choice

The phrase most commonly being used to describe what people have experienced during the pandemic is ‘home working’. But such a phrase isn’t doing justice to the tremendous opportunities that ‘remote working’ can actually enable. This isn’t about working from home. This is about working from anywhere.

You might be more productive working in a café. Or sitting on a bench at your favourite hiking spot. Maybe it’s the beach. Maybe it’s a hotel lobby. Maybe it’s one location for a day of phone calls, and another when you’re writing a report. The point is, you should be able to work from anywhere. And your law firm should be providing you with the support to make that happen.

Now for some, that choice might well be working from home. But where home is becomes a very different conversation once you truly embrace remote working.

The village of Lamlash, Isle of Arran, where Carol and her husband run their B&B

Fulfilling your dream

Carol Lee is the perfect example. Carol joined Setfords as a consultant solicitor in 2009, and for many years what suited her best was carrying out her work as a commercial and residential property lawyer while based in the Midlands. But recently, she and her husband decided to move to the Isle of Arran. Carol now works as a Setfords consultant and runs a vegan B&B. She has fulfilled her dream.

Emma Jones

Carol and her husband, pictured holidaying in Tenerife

Remote working also gave conveyancer Dawn Brogan the freedom she needed to ensure her partner could fulfil his dreams. When Dawn’s husband was posted to Cyprus as part of his military career, she was able to pick up her consultancy work and carry on. She spent two years in the glorious Cypriot sunshine serving her British-based customers, before returning to England when her husband relocated again.

The latest statistics suggest more and more of us are hungry for the type of life lawyers like Carol and Dawn enjoy.

Last month estate agents reported a rise in interest in countryside locations. Inverness, South Devon and the Cotswolds were among the areas that saw a dramatic increase in searches.

Emma Jones

The island of Cyprus, once home to Setfords lawyer Dawn Brogan in Devon.

Enjoying more than the view

But let’s be honest, to get the most from working from anywhere relies on having an employer that is embracing remote working not because they have to, but because they really want to. I fear that while many lawyers might now be able to choose where they live and work, they will still be tied to unrealistic targets and deadlines – those elements of legal work that have nothing to do with customer service, and everything to do with profits for overpaid partners.

To get the most of working from anywhere, lawyers should be given the freedom to decide what sort of working life they really want. What’s the point of living in paradise if you’re tied to a desk trying desperately to meet a turnover target set by someone with their own interests at heart?

The rise of working from anywhere is a welcome sight in the legal industry. But employers must do more if their lawyers are to enjoy the true benefits.

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