Technological advances increase workloads for solicitors and widen ‘hours gap’, study finds
Smartphones and tablets are encouraging a culture of long hours in the legal profession, a study by the Law Society of Scotland has found.
And while advances in technology also permit more flexible working, including allowing men to take a more hands-on approach to childcare, they are widening rather than reducing the gap between those prepared to work additional hours and others who would rather not.
The findings are included in the Perceptions and Impacts of Working Patterns within the Legal Profession in Scotland report published today. The in-depth, qualitative research is a follow-up to the Profile of the Profession study, the biggest survey of its kind carried out by the Society.
The latest report, which involved group and telephone interviews of solicitors, examined the experiences of those working full-time, part-time, condensed hours and from home. One of the areas focused on was the impact of technology.
Neil Stevenson, Director of Representation and Support at the Law Society, explained: “We wanted to test whether technology was helping create a more level playing field for those working flexibly or on reduced hours, or whether it was helping the ‘alphas’ in the profession, whether male or female, work even longer hours.”
The report concluded that a “culture of extensive overtime has become endemic across the profession”.
It said: “Technology was seen to contribute to this increased workload. In particular, smartphone devices with push technology activated was seen as a significant driver of additional hours and a reduction in an acceptable work/life balance.
“Solicitors reported persistently receiving emails outwith office hours, along with an expectation, both by clients and their firm or organisation, that they will respond instantly. Feelings of not being able to switch off and being permanently tied to the office were commonplace.
“Whilst there were advantages discussed in relation to the impact of technology, most individuals of all grades and working patterns highlighted the challenges and negative impacts this had brought to the profession.”
However, the report added that technology, such as video technology and the ability to access files remotely, also created efficiencies and accommodated greater flexible working patterns, which encouraged staff retention and a more motivated and productive workforce.
On men taking a more active role in childcare, it found: “Even when part-time working is not required, men with young families appreciate the ability to get home in time to spend some time with their children and then, if required, start work again in the evening. New technology allows this flexibility.”
The study also looked at perceptions around working patterns, the gender-based pay gap, discrimination, and the Society and its services. It identified some new ways of working and examples of best practice.
Stevenson, highlighted some examples of best practice in the report, such as: introducing an on-call system so that all solicitors did not receive calls from clients; providing the right equipment to facilitate home working; managing workloads so that neither full nor part-time staff were overloaded; liaising with part-time staff when organising meetings and training; and, partners setting an example by also working flexibly.
He said: “The Profile of the Profession survey provided valuable insights into the legal profession and how it is working as a whole but it was largely quantitative.
“This report builds on that by giving a much more detailed understanding of the issues facing those working full-time, part-time, condensed hours and home working.
“It’s evident that the huge change in technology and access has not always been fully supported by training, support, and guidance on working practices. Feeling constantly on call is now a key cause of stress in the profession, and may not even be what clients or employers really intend.
“It is worth all employers regularly discussing how the most intrusive aspects of technology can be reduced. Many of the ideas in the report are worth exploring further and would not necessarily have significant cost implications.”
Notes to editors:
The 2013 Profile of the Profession was based on a questionnaire sent to all solicitors, trainees and those retained on the roll of solicitors. A total of 3,449 solicitors responded. The research can be found on the Law Society of Scotland website: Profile of the Profession
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