Most people have heard of agile working; you might be already doing it. But does it actually work for in-house? Maxine Park investigates.

The rise in agile working in recent years is obvious to anyone who occasionally frequents coffee shops and hotel lobbies. But how practical is agile for the in-house lawyer?

Whilst the homeworking revolution signals a major change in professional life in the last decade or so, there’s more to agile than this.

Agile working is about bringing people, processes, and technology together to find the best way of carrying out a task. It is working within the guidelines of the task, but ridding it of boundaries (in terms of how you achieve it).

While the flexibility to open your laptop virtually anywhere helps free up professionals from unnecessary commutes, the use of flexi-time, hotdesking etc can also help the in-house lawyer.

Despite in-house lawyers working in organisations of varying sizes, not all businesses are able or willing to adopt more flexible methods of working.

In-house lawyers find themselves under daily pressures to streamline practices, cut budgets and be a hub of legal advice, visible and available to stakeholders. This means being available on the ground much of the time.

However, professionals (particularly millennials) are now demanding more of a work-life balance to keep them motivated and mentally strong; after all, how many lawyers move in-house because of the perceived better work-life balance opportunities?

But for agile working to thrive in-house, it requires a shift in the mindset of many organisations.

After all, flexibility can be a poisoned chalice used incorrectly, meaning the employee can feel they are always on call. The fact is that an element of trust is needed for an in-house lawyer to succeed through working agilely, allowing them the autonomy to work effectively.

You may ask how you can go about building this trust with your organisation, but perhaps there is something amiss if, after a period of employment, the business cannot fully trust a senior member of staff to work autonomously?

Surely, in-house lawyers should be afforded the space to do their job? It’s a case of finding a way of building in flexibility that works for everyone.

This flexibility might include an agreement whereby you are in the office for a minimum of three days a week, or where you get to see colleagues, attend meetings etc.

Modern, cutting-edge tech giants like Google and Microsoft encourage offices without doors, walls and allocated desks. It creates a ‘fluid’ environment where there is much more cross-pollination of ideas, employees get to know more of their colleagues, and understand better the workings of other departments – and the issues faced by the organisation.

This form of hotdesking will open a labyrinth of insights, as you meet and mix with everyone in the business. You become a familiar face, building your visibility and engagement.

It is also true that an in-house lawyer needs blocks of uninterrupted time where you can get to work on more in-depth tasks. Allowing the flexibility to work from a desk at home, without the interruptions of your colleagues’ questions, phone calls, and emails, would be beneficial some of the time at least.

Can agile working be a solution for in-house lawyers?

I believe it can work, with careful thought, the right tools, real flexibility and the element of trust. But it has to be designed specifically to suit each organisation. Most importantly of all, it needs the spirit of co-operation.

Maxine Park is the founder of DictateNow, the largest digital dictation and transcription specialist in the UK. 

The Law Society has partnered with DictateNow. DictateNow is the country’s leading digital dictation and transcription service provider and work with law firms of all sizes, from Top 50 to small and medium-sized firms.

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