How agile working and technology is empowering women in law
by Nasstar Plc, Document Direct and Keystone Law
In this report, we focus on how women in one of the most competitive and male-dominated industries; law, are progressing in their careers and using technology to support them in their daily work. We speak to five successful lawyers from Keystone Law, one of the UK’s top 100 law firms, about their experiences working in the legal industry.
Keystone Law operates with a focus on innovation, achieved through a flatter organisational model to better recognise, retain and promote talent across their business. While many law firms talk about diversity, Keystone Law has taken proactive, organisational steps to encourage diversity across their business.
With the top 10 law firms in the country employing an average of 18.5% of females at partner level, Keystone Law is a leading example in the industry of a much more diverse workforce with 40% of female lawyers, edging towards 50% in the next year.
Women in law
The statistics show that women are still underrepresented across the legal industry, and that gender continues to impact on a lawyer’s career progression hopes. In a survey by McKinsey, 46% of women in law believed their gender played a role in causing them to miss out on a raise or promotion and 61% of women believed that their gender would make it more difficult for them to progress in their careers.
The problem can often start with a gender imbalance at partner level within firms. “It’s important that the people responsible for recruiting new lawyers look at their own perceptions and biases – are you recruiting and promoting in your own image?” says Michelle Last, Employment Lawyer at Keystone Law. “Often the people at the top of a firm don’t reflect the junior levels of a firm, because despite the gender balance when joining a firm, more men are being promoted (by men) to partnership level.”
While there are still more men in senior positions within law firms across the country, the good news is that the industry is listening and responding, with the top 100 firms in the UK recruiting more females than males each year at trainee level to try and redress the balance and ensure more women progress to senior roles.
Cited as one of the most significant barriers to women progressing across all industries, flexible working is now enabling more women to move on in their careers. However, more agile working practices require the technology to be in place to allow workers to connect seamlessly with their companies’ systems, resources, applications and files.
New technology enabling flexible working
More dynamic communication and collaboration tech is now enabling flexible working to become much more prevalent across the legal industry, with more and more companies allowing staff to work more flexible schedules; from home or on the go. Solutions such as Microsoft Office 365, secure cloud hosting, NetDocuments and outsourced dictation/typing in the cloud (via Document Direct) are now giving lawyers the ability to access emails, documents and financial information from anywhere.
Flexible working plays an important role in attracting and retaining a diverse workforce. In a recent survey:
45% of women working in law believe that prioritising work-life balance would jeopardise their success in a firm, while 16% thought that showing commitment to family would negatively affect their career progression possibilities.
Being able to access applications and client data at home, on the go, or at client sites with the same experience as working in an office, means that flexible working doesn’t impact on a firms’ ability to service its clients, while allowing women to have a better work-life balance that they have more control over.
Is enough being done on flexible working options?
Yet whilst the industry talks about implementing flexible working options, is enough being done to enable better working practices? “Most law firms talk about remote and flexible working, but their culture doesn’t fully embrace the model – with managers watching over their employees and worrying about staff actually working when away from the office. The cultural acceptance of remote working is just as important as having the technology infrastructure in place to support more agile working practices,” says Dee Sian, Consultant solicitor in the Corporate team at Keystone Law.
The lack of flexible working options available has a tangible impact on the ability of women to progress in the industry with 41% of women in law saying that resistance to flexible working practices by employers has impacted on their career progression. A report by the Law Society also cited unconscious bias against women as a barrier to career progression, however, a huge 49% of respondents highlighted that unacceptable work-life balance demands to reach senior positions was impacting on their ability to progress. Despite these findings, 52% of respondents in the report said that they worked in an organisation where flexible working was now in place.
What’s the view of Keystone Law lawyers and their clients?
“There’s a greater acceptance of remote working today, across both employers and clients,” commented Zoe Bloom, Family Solicitor at Keystone Law. “My clients don’t expect me to be in an office in London when I take a call; it’s much more accepted that we’re all on the go or working in a range of environments compared with even just a few years ago, which makes it easier for flexible working to be successful.”
Outside of providing staff with diverse working options, more agile working enables firms to better communicate with their customers; sharing files on the fly securely and collaborating live on document changes, while video conferencing with teams across the world. Agile working, through a modern, collaborative desktop available on any device, unleashes lawyers from the confines of their physical offices – enabling them to work more dynamically, in a way that better suits their own work and lifestyle preferences, in addition to their clients’ preferences.
However, flexible working alone isn’t going to fix the problem. Employment lawyer, Michelle Last, comments: “Flexible working helps to keep more women in the legal industry, but more needs to be done at a wider level to challenge bias in order to help women progress in their careers.”
Remote working with secure IT
In the legal industry, remote working has to be secure. When handling highly sensitive and critical files, lawyers need to be confident that their devices – both in the office and at home – are secured to the highest levels, and that data being shared in the cloud or outside of company networks is protected. More flexible working practices cannot come at the cost of the security of data and firms’ IT systems.
Nasstar works with law firms to implement the technology, systems and processes to offer more flexible working solutions to staff, without compromising on the performance of systems and the security of data. Lawyers can work confidently away from the office, accessing their normal desktop applications from mobile devices.
Diversity benefits everyone
But why is diversity important? It can actually impact on your bottom line: the top gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to earn above average financial revenues compared with other companies in their industry – due to the increased range of perspectives that a more diverse workforce offers.
With more and more industry campaigns and legislation being introduced to promote gender diverse workforces, it’s easy to think the problem is going away. However, employers still have a big part to play in ensuring that staff have access to the technology they need to enable lawyers to work remotely and operate with more flexibility.
And it’s not just law firms that are benefitting from flexible working solutions, “At Nasstar, we’ve been delivering cloud solutions since before it was really a concept and over the years, I’ve seen technology really gather speed as a key enabler for flexible working patterns,” says Niki Redwood, Financial Director at Nasstar.
“As a company, empowering our staff is important and this can often be reflected in remote or flexible working patterns. There’s no one size fits all approach here, and for some being in the office five days a week suits their role, however it’s important to ensure that all our staff have the right tools to communicate and collaborate securely wherever they are.
As a busy mum and FD, I basically work all the time, but can do so flexibly so that I can be there for the school run or work from home if one of my children is ill.”
Keystone Law’s broad application of technology
Keystone Law has embraced technology thoroughly, using tech to reduce business overheads and drive efficiencies across their firm, enabling over 300 lawyers to work more dynamically and flexibly. Technology is critical for firms’ ability to ensure lawyers can collaborate seamlessly with their colleagues and clients quickly and efficiently no matter where in the world they are.
“Lots of traditional law firms are constrained by legacy IT systems which are difficult to change,” says Sarah Needham, Commercial Contracts and IP Lawyer at Keystone Law. “Having access to industry-leading technology that enables us to set up and invoice clients in a matter of minutes lets me focus on my core job and be as productive and efficient as possible for my clients.”
Flexible working also promotes more productive working environments. “I’m much more productive working at home compared to working in a traditional office, and I can fit my work around picking my children up from school, working later in the evening at a time that suits me,” says Joanna McKenzie, Consultant Solicitor in Keystone Law’s dispute resolution team.
It’s important to remember that increased flexible working doesn’t just benefit women; it benefits everyone in the firm. With shared parental leave becoming more popular, dads are also able to take advantage of more agile working practices, and firms can grow without losing top talent who need more flexibility and choices about how, when and where they work.
Diversity benefits everyone.