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Solicitors bend towards flexible working

28 October 2013 | tagged News release

Changes in technology and a greater use of flexible working are influencing solicitors' work patterns according to findings from recent research into Scotland's legal profession.

There were more than 3,400 responses to the Law Society of Scotland's third equality profile of its solicitor members, published today, Monday, 28 October. The research examines flexible working in the profession for the first time as well as areas previously covered, including equal pay, career aspirations and discrimination.

The Law Society has also today launched new guidance Ensuring fairness, creating opportunity: A practical guide to equality and diversity for Scottish solicitors, which is aimed at ensuring solicitors incorporate the principles of equality and diversity throughout their organisation to benefit their clients, their staff and their business.

The research into the legal profession, carried out by independent research firm MVA, shows that the vast majority of respondents worked full-time (77%). However, there has also been an increase in the proportion working amended hours (part-time, condensed, or other arrangements) (23%) and the sub-set of this group (17% of overall profession) now working part-time. Further, almost two-thirds were permitted to work away from the office, although just a quarter of respondents did so at least once a week. More male solicitors than females were permitted to work from home (69% male, 56% female) or remotely (66% males compared to 51% female). 

Janet Hood, Convener of the Law Society's Equality and Diversity Committee, said: "Technological advances have made flexible working a more feasible option for many of us and today's findings show it is it is available to most within the legal profession, although more widely used by solicitors at a senior level.

"It will be interesting to monitor this to find out if flexible working increases across a wider proportion of the profession in the next few years."

Over two-thirds of those with access to remote working do not access emails or work files out of hours, but of those who do, 44% do in the evening, 34% at weekends and 22% during annual leave.

While 17% of respondents work amended hours, just 1% had their requests for amended hours turned down, with 60% of respondents citing child care responsibilities as the main reason for choosing to work amended hours. This was the main reason for the majority of women (72%) but less so for men (13%). Other reasons included general work/life balance (11%) and personal preference (10%). 

More than two-thirds (67%) of those working amended hours felt their firm or employer was supportive or very supportive of their current work pattern, and only 16% felt their employer was either unsupportive or very unsupportive. 38% of respondents who work amended hours said they could not continue in their current role if this was not available. 

However almost half of those working amended hours (49%), felt that it hampered career progression by reducing or delaying their chances of promotion or becoming a partner. This was largely seen to be as a result of working fewer hours and therefore not gaining experience but some also stated that they were given less responsibility as a result of working amended hours which meant they could not progress.

The findings show more women are prevalent in the £15,000 to £45,000 salary bracket, while men are more prevalent in the £65,000 to £150,000 bracket. Women are also more likely to be trainees, assistants, associates and solicitor team members while men were more likely to be equity partners, consultants or directors.

Ms Hood said: "At the moment there are more women in the earlier stages of their careers than men. However men, in general, continue to be paid more although the gap now starts later at around ten years in work but continues throughout a solicitor's working life. 

"While we can't make definitive statements about barriers to career progress, it's clear than more women than men take career breaks and work amended hours, often because of child care responsibilities, which is felt to have an impact. There also appear to be different gender approaches to career success, with reasons such as the perceived high financial risk for the financial rewards in becoming a partner or preferring to have a client-facing role, being behind some female solicitors' reasons for not progressing to partnership level, which offers the highest financial rewards.

"That said, it is critical that the profession does not lose out by limiting the career options of people working part-time. With almost one in five solicitors working amended hours we need to look at the long term implications and not make potentially negative assumptions about the contribution they can make to their firm or employer. We would also recommend that employers carry out an equal pay audit and the Society's new guidance due to be released in early spring next year will assist firms with this. 

"Figures for incidents of discrimination have remained the same as previously reported (16%), with a worrying number of those solicitors saying they had been actively bullied or harassed at some point within their career. The Society has launched free online CPD to assist individuals and firms affected and are funding a confidential helpline service provided by LawCare."

Neil Stevenson, Director of Professional Support and Representation at the Law Society, said: "This is the third equality profile of the profession that we have carried out and we were very pleased to have the biggest response so far with 3,449 solicitors taking part. 

"It's important work for us as a professional body. It helps us discern trends as well as any issues such as the pay gap between men and women and levels of harassment or bullying so that we can take steps to tackle these issues. As a result of the previous research, we have created new guidance for our members, including the new guidance launched today, and offered training sessions which illustrate how equality and diversity not just makes sense on a personal level but on a business level.

"It's important to us all that the legal profession attracts and retains talent to ensure a vibrant and innovative profession which is accessible to those who need it. This type of research helps us identify and tackle any barriers - actual or perceived - and do what we can to support our members in fulfilling their ambitions." 

Notes to editor

The report is available on the Law Society website

ENDS                                                                     28 OCTOBER 2013 

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION: Please contact Val McEwan on 0131 226 8884 or 07825 206468

Email: valeriemcewan@lawscot.org.uk

28 October 2013

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