As we emerge from the pandemic, many law firms are significantly more open to considering flexible work arrangements. In fact, flexible work arrangements are gaining surprising prominence in an industry that historically abided by the in-office model. Use this golden opportunity to gain more flexibility in your workday as well as the possibility of increasing your income.
If you’re unfamiliar with working outside the traditional 40-hour a week relationship with law firms, here’s a breakdown of what to expect as you take this route.
What is a flexible work arrangement?
According to Inc.com, “Flexible work programs are work arrangements wherein employees are given greater scheduling freedom in how they fulfill the obligations of their positions.” Under this sort of arrangement, for example, a full-time employee would need to fulfill their 40-hour per week obligation to an employer but would not be bound to a set schedule with respect to when those hours are to be accomplished.
You could also set up a flexible work arrangement for job sharing (where two or more people split the hours required to do one job), part-time employment, or telecommuting in a post-pandemic world.
Will flexible work arrangements work for all paralegals?
If your job duties include being present at court, meeting 5:00 p.m. service, filing deadlines, or similar tasks that tie you to “regular” business hours, it is unlikely your employer will be able to let you work an alternative schedule. Likewise, if your position requires frequent client contact, your employer may be hesitant to allow you to share duties with another paralegal.
Of course, not every paralegal position has these constrictions. If you spend 10 hours a day doing document review, for example, it often doesn’t matter which 10 hours you choose to spend performing that task. The same goes for things like legal research or document formatting. As long as you get your assigned tasks done prior to the deadline, it should work. Additionally, you should be able to share those tasks with colleagues and accomplish them from nearly anywhere.
How to properly negotiate the ideal flex work arrangement
If you think a flexible work arrangement might be a fit for you, you’re obviously going to have to talk to your employer about it. So, how do you do that? Here are our top tips for entering into successful negotiations:
#1: Know the landscape.
Before you approach your employer about a flexible work arrangement, do your research about the employer’s overall stance on the issue. What does the employee handbook say, for example? Do you know of other employees working outside the normal paradigm? What does the website or firm brochure say? It’s important to know before you begin whether you’re seeking to blaze a new trail or enhance an existing program.
#2: Know how your proposal will help the employer.
Chances are, you’re seeking a flexible work arrangement to benefit yourself. That’s fine, but it may not be enough to get you what you want. Be prepared to discuss how your proposed arrangement will benefit your employer as well. For example, will offering flex arrangements help with recruiting or retention? Will there be any tie to increased productivity or profits? If so, you definitely want to discuss these issues.
#3: Discuss the benefits to other employees.
Many employers would be hesitant to approve a flexible arrangement for just one employee. That’s ok! Your negotiation should include a discussion of how flexible work arrangements can benefit all employees through things like increased morale, greater productivity, and employee loyalty.
#4: Offer strict parameters.
If you suspect your employer is going to be hesitant to accept flexible work arrangements, offer to enter into an agreement that sets the ground rules for this new situation. That way, if your employer finds you’re not living up to your side of the bargain, they have an easy method for bringing you back to a normal working arrangement.
If the COVID-19 pandemic taught us anything about the modern workplace, it was that everything we thought we knew was wrong. For example, many employers used to believe that allowing employees to work from home would lead to decreased productivity. Then, just about everyone was forced to work from home and things still got done.
It was a real eye-opener for businesses across a wide spectrum of industries, including the legal profession. This is an opportune time to leverage your skillset and set new career goals that allow you to gain more work-life balance while being more productive as a paralegal.