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Downturn no excuse to abandon flexible working

The economic downturn is no reason to abandon moves towards flexible working, shadow minister for women Theresa May told top City law firms yesterday. As speakers at Working Families Legal Lives conference admitted there was a real risk the current economic situation would put a squeeze on forward-thinking working practices, May said this was precisely the time to look at the ways tools like flexible working could be utilised.


"It is important to ensure the interests of the business are put first in times of economic downturn. But we need to say that this is a time of opportunity to look at ways flexible working can be of benefit, especially in retaining and recruiting talent. We need to keep making the case," she said.

Her comments came as a panel of lawyers conceded the downturn could hinder the progress of flexible working. "There is a tendency to think people working on a flexible basis are an easy target," warned Joanna Hamilton, partner at law firm SJ Berwin. But she, like other panellists, agreed it was important to reiterate the business benefits of flexible working. "We have to have mechanisms in place ready for the upturn," she said.
Working Families' chief executive Sarah Jackson (pictured) echoed their views. "We need to embrace it now. The financial climate means reviewing working practices with the goal of achieving more focused work and better performance is critical. Now is not the time to let people go if you can find a way to keep them through flexibility," she said.

Attorney General, Baroness Scotland of Ashthal, a self-professed "champion of talent", went a step further by saying flexibility was the "best way of delivering bottom line benefit" as "everyone is hunting in the same talent pool".

"The old carrots of pay, partnership and prestige are moving past their sell-by dates," she said. "I don't see why we even entertain the notion that the person the client wants to speak to has to be in the office to achieve best advice. Flexible working, and a better work-life balance, does not mean failing clients and client expectations."

The conference marked the launch of research by Working Families on flexible working in the legal profession, sponsored by law firm Addleshaw Goddard