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Slaughter and May is piloting a series of part-time working schemes, which will include allowing solicitors to reduce their hours by up to 20%, or job share.

'Switch on/off', may sound like an eco-friendly push to save electricity, but it's the name coined by the Magic Circle firm to allow lawyers to cut their working time by up to 20%, by booking off chunks of predetermined unpaid leave.

In a statement about the scheme, Slaughter and May said that parents could, for example, use the extra time-off to "align with school holidays". It added "this does not have to be the case" - so parents wanting to head to a remote island during term-term, free from their children, will also benefit from the scheme. 'Switch on/off' is "not limited to parents", confirmed the firm, allaying the fears of any singletons concerned they may need to procreate in order to qualify for extra holiday.

Another pilot scheme labelled as offering 'Project led flexibility' will also allow lawyers to cut their working time by up to 20%. Lawyers can take advantage of the additional unpaid leave when a project or matter comes to an end; which should allow them to don their sombrero for an extended break, as soon as the ink dries on the final signature page of a deal. When Sombrero time is over, lawyers will have to commit to working five days a week. 

A third pilot scheme will allow associates to job share by working part-time on a weekly basis, with two associates teaming-up to cover one role. Under the scheme, the associates will each work 3 days a week, with one day where they overlap. The pairing could be two associates at the same level or a junior and senior associate.

Other City firms gearing up for a return to the office, have begun to set out various flexible options, with many firms including fellow Magic Circle firms Clifford Chance, Linklaters and Freshfields permitting staff to split their time 50/50 between the office and home. Allen & Overy has said that staff can work remotely for 40% of their time.

DAC Beachcroft and Irwin Mitchell have gone further and given staff the power to decide where, when and how they work. And Mishcon de Reya will also allow its staff to work where and when they like, subject to client and business needs. 

"It is not our business how you organise your working time," said Mishcon's managing partner James Libson in an internal email, seen by RollOnFriday, which was sent in February this year. Libson said that staff could make the choice: "Deal with your emails at 6am, 10am or 9pm, spend time with your kids when they get home from school, head out for a run at 11am, walk your dog at 3pm – do whatever works best for your life." 

"As long as the clients' needs are met and your colleagues are not adversely affected, you will be trusted to be responsible and to deliver what is expected of you," added Libson. "You can choose to do this between 9.30am and 5.30pm if you want, or you can flex to suit what works for you."

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Comments

lol 16 July 21 08:09

Assuming that anybody who chooses to take up this option is not adversely affected when back in the office, this is a great idea and one that you would hope will actually work in giving people a break / reducing the chance of burnout, compared to other half baked schemes that focus more on e.g. only working 4 day weeks (which could never happen in practice).
 

Hopefully other firms follow suit, particularly given how brutal things have been for everybody since around this time last year.

Anon 16 July 21 08:42

"As long as the clients' needs are met and your colleagues are not adversely affected”

The universal catch all caveat.  

Anonymous 16 July 21 08:54

You can flexibly work whatever hours you like!

Until a client wants an answer to an email at 11pm, at which point the PR stuff stops. Be more responsive.

They/Them 16 July 21 08:58

I hope Slaughters didn't really use the outdated term "parents".

They should have referred to "child-raising persons".

Anonymous 16 July 21 09:01

"As long as clients' needs are met and your colleagues are not adversely affected" - which means "we will pressure you to cancel your holiday at short notice and badger you out of hours and when you are on leave".

This is bullshit. I am adversely affected *every time* one of my colleagues goes on leave - but I wouldn't dream of hassling them not to go on leave. We all look after each other because the adverse effect of not going on leave is much worse.

Anon 16 July 21 09:43

I question the viability of this to make any real difference because it is clients, not associates, who control the workload and drive expected response times.  If documents are received for review or a client raises a query, how realistic is it to tell the client “oh sorry I’m putting the kids to bed but I’ll log on tomorrow” and in that time whilst you’re offline more emails are received which makes your next working day even harder.   I can’t see clients being prepared to pay for that level of service when competitors’ associates are either in the office or logged on working most of the time.   Similarly I question how partners who have been used to having their teams on call at the drop of a hat will deal with them being offline for hours in the middle of the working day.   Which is really the meaning of the caveat referred to above.   

Anon 16 July 21 09:46

But clients won’t accept a lack of responsiveness so won’t this create tensions that will always be resolved in the clients’ favour obviously?  What about promotion and reward prospects?   

lol 16 July 21 10:09

Isn't the key point that this would be used when a matter comes to an end (in which case any follow up emails would typically be less urgent and can usually be handled by others in the team)?  Agree that staffing would have to be carefully managed but would expect this to be workable if planned correctly. 

anon 16 July 21 11:26

If it’s used when matters come to an end, then it’s going to be very limited in scope and in any event there are recovery days / downtime in operation already for this type of situation.   

Fully flexed 16 July 21 11:49

Might work for the 5% of people who are fully integrated humans in the Jungian sense, but for the remaining 95% insecure, people pleasers who can’t say “no” to a client or a senior, I fear this is simply nice window dressing, to be thrown into marketing and pitches, along with the sections on “CSR” and “D&I”.

Someone who can read 16 July 21 12:59

Are people commenting on this even reading the article? Most of the comments seem to focus on the Mishcon quote at the end and the "flexing hours over the normal workweek" model which has nothing to do with Slaughters' latest proposal.

The point about the new Slaughters proposal is that the relevant associate will be out of the office for a chunk of time - either for pre-agreed periods set in advance, or at the end of a transaction. The idea is not for people to cut hours every week on a weekly basis, or to take one day off or some such (except for the job share pilot which will die a quick death).

At the extreme, this model almost looks like a freelance where the associate comes in for a project, then chooses to stay in for another project or just to go away (unpaid). 

I think it has a reasonable chance of working, at least far better chance than the usual schemes which are simply a salary reduction scheme which only fools would take.

Of course, whether it's value for money for the associates in question is a reasonable question...

Anonymous 17 July 21 13:34

@Anonymous 16 July 21 08:54

Girls who know they are pretty, also know they can command attention. They usually turn into pests. Clients that know they are major clients and references in your PR material, leaflets and Chambers 500 also very much know they can command attention, at all times of the day and night. And they do. These quickly become pests and will never hesitate to call you Sundays 7 AM to get a status report.

WFH means I get another hour sleep every night so I can better handle these high value clients. 

Jimmy jimmy 22 July 21 08:56

RoF seem to have such a love in with the Magic Circle and the way they report these type of initiatives. If it was a non-MC firm this would be spun such that the firm is asking staff to reduce hours for reduced pay. This is what most firms did during the pandemic - reduce your working hours for less pay and RoF revelled in this. Realistically all that will happen is that once a big deal has finished associates will be encouraged to take unpaid leave until the next deal starts. Why would an associate do this when they can just do the same thing but get paid? Shame that RoF doesn’t call this out for what it is. 

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