Returning to practice after a career break (yes, we're mainly talking maternity leave, here) can feel a very stressful and dispiriting experience. Not only are careers in law extremely competitive and overly-subscribed, many firms are firmly stuck in the rigid and patriarchal past and fail to offer the kind of flexible working environments that reflect the twenty-first century environment we live in – a world in which both men and women work and it is (or at least should be) perfectly possible to combine a fulfilling and financially rewarding career with a rich and involved family life.
Against this background it's not hard to understand why so many women in law feel the need to give in altogether when faced with inflexible or family unfriendly managers or, defeated, end up working in-house at commercial companies which have a more evolved and progressive approach to flexible working time.
Fortunately, it is possible for returning mothers to manage their careers effectively; however, doing so often involves going down less traditional routes, particularly those which embrace the latest legaltech offerings – those designed to created a level playing field both for the providers of legal services and those who consume them.
For example, Oratto can help lawyers from all over the country find work in their particular niche fields without the need to test the considerable resistance of traditional firms.
By having a platform from which to pick and choose work, women (and indeed men) who are attempting to return to work following an absence can do so on their own terms, ensuring that their workloads are appropriate, effectively fit in with their home lives and help them plot their career paths in both the short and the long-term.
It is empowering for any person to free themselves from the intractable-seeming position of having to make a binary decision between work and family: particularly when we all have an awareness that the world is changing and that our workplaces should be reflecting this. Given humanity's long-standing fears of robots reducing the role and individual importance of humans, we should take heart that technological innovations are contradicting this assumption by disrupting the legal market in a positive way that is actually making the process of returning to work more, rather than less, human.
Part of this is about being able to establish working patterns that are organically generated by lawyers and the work they're taking on from their clients, rather than ones that are imposed by firms. This is perhaps the very definition of flexibility.
But it is not just those who have been on maternity or paternity leave who stand to benefit from the beneficial disruptions to the legal market that are presented by innovators such as Oratto.
Whether a person has taken a career hiatus to write a novel, to travel around the world, to look after a parent or partner, to engage in further study or to nurture some other aspect of personal or professional life, having a flexible and solicitor-focused work-sourcing platform makes the successful transition back into work more possible.
We need to talk about flexibility for lawyers
It is necessary too: many lawyers are simply too scared talk about the concerns. For example, the Law Society Gazette recently reported that news items related to flexible working arrangements are regularly among the most popular articles on its website. This makes it clear that although the majority of lawyers may be too shy to talk about the working lifestyle they desire they are clearly still dreaming about it.
Younger lawyers in particular are actually beginning to expect agility from their firms and those that don't provide it are likely to lose out. But, in another paradigm-shift, this manpower loss will not only be to more progressive firms but also to technologies that disrupt the firm-centric model in favour of one that puts the lawyer at the centre of the client relationship. Oratto's own research shows that this is what clients want when looking for legal services online. They are more interested in the credentials of the lawyer who is actually dealing with their case than those of the law firm they work for.
Lawyer skills, not firm prowess, now central in clients' mindsIn practice, this means that consumers want, and can find on Oratto's website, detailed information relating to individual lawyers working in the areas of specialism they require. Online profiles can provide case studies, career summaries, work and education histories and more, all so that clients can make intelligent and informed choices based purely on the individual merits of the individual Oratto lawyer. It is, in effect, a model of much greater clarity.
Under this model, with the lawyer being recruited directly and intelligently by the client, the issues and challenges presented by remote work, part-time work, school holidays, compressed hours and working day finishing times become largely irrelevant. So long as the terms and hours of the relationship work for both client and lawyer, there are no such obstacles.
Of course, such flexibilities shouldn't be beyond firms. Sure, it is harder to incorporate meaningful flexibility into larger organisations where there are complex levels of bureaucracy and interdependence, but IT and mobile access have evolved rapidly over the past several years and making signification adaptations shouldn't be overly challenging. In the meantime, we're happy to take the lead.