How one law firm is trying to change the rules of work

Global lawyers RPC have created a mission statement with the goal of upending their traditional working model.

rpc spark our future

 

Thinking about work differently is what Working Dads is all about and it’s always nice to see companies try to do something to change their culture and attitude for the better. That’s particularly true when it’s something like a corporate law firm, which is exactly what RPC have set their mind on.

At the centre of the evolution is partner Patrick Brodie (pictured above), who authored an internal manifesto called SparkOurFuture, with the aim of transforming how the company operates.

We asked Patrick about SparkOurFuture, why it’s so important and why they decided to do it in the first place.

We don’t always think of corporate law firms as being progressive when it comes to work/life balance and thinking differently, so what, er, sparked this change?

The world in which we work and operate has changed fundamentally. I’ve held that view not just for the last two years.

Historically, the discussion around flexibility has been directed towards women. There was a false rigidity [to that] because the bargain between and employees and employers is much more subtle and much more flexible than that. It’s about a sense of trust, belief, support, collaboration – working together with a particular purpose. And those traditional theories of you come in at nine, you finish at five felt inappropriate to a working world for the better part of ten years.

The core tenets of SparkOurFuture hinge around trust, nurturing and personal responsibility. What does that mean in practice?

If you are able to create that flexibility, you are able to create access to a greater number of people who are able to participate with the organisation. And you increase the level of engagement. [People] feel as though they have some degree of control and independence and there’s something fabulous about control and independence in your working world.

By giving people that control and independence, you drive that motivation. In reality, you create a much more inclusive, collaborative workplace.

How flexible are you really as a company?

There is nobody within our team who works on a traditional nine-to-five basis. Everyone has worked flexibly. Flexibility in most people’s minds simply means you don’t work nine-to-five. But I’m not convinced by who created that rationale.

In reality, we engage with our work at various times of the day. Why doesn’t the way we engage with our people reflect that? You have lots of binary choices – which is home/office, but again, working isn’t about that.

Was this difficult to sell to a corporate environment?

It’s challenging in terms of it breaks down the traditional concepts of leadership. And often the traditional concepts of leadership are about hierarchies and direction.

We’ve called our project SparkOurFuture. And that was really deliberate because it had to describe a vision. Why do we work and what’s the rationale for it? And will we feel better as a result of this process? It’s about reassessment, review, direction.

And what have the results been like?

None of it is about ignoring the huge human value of speaking to people face-to-face within groups. [But] the moment of human interaction can be negative. So some hybrid working supports individuals who might find that nature of interaction challenging.

Law firms may say, well if you can’t cope with it, you shouldn’t be a lawyer. But that misses the point – that there are some individuals who have brilliant skills and expertise who may not be able to articulate it given a particular environment.

If you work on the view that the community is a diversity of views and that diversity of views gives real value, then you create a structure that enables that diversity to co-exist.

Of course, it’s all very well for a company to choose to do this, but you need buy-in from your employees too, especially when a corporate law environment has traditionally been about earning well and climbing the ladder.

How do you describe work and success? How is an organisation able to express to all of its people what success looks like? Typically, there’s a single story that goes with that. It’s very linear. But for some people that’s not success, it’s misery.

The language and visuals of the greasy pole, it’s used for a reason. It’s there specifically because it resonates with us. It’s not a particularly attractive description.

Is there a different way that colleagues can rise to the top? I don’t know, there might be a stairway, there might be an elevator…the organisations have to be able to describe that other route up.

And so people are on board?

Nobody has said we got it wrong. A lot of people have said we could improve it and make it better. It [requires] a leadership which is much more emotionally attuned to its people. It makes it simpler if the organisation knows that and has the qualities that reflect that.

It’s not soft management – it’s actually really hard management. What we’ve attempted to do is take away the scaffolding that exists and say it is much more about discission and views that requires a much, much greater level of engagement with people.

None of this is about absolute freedoms. It’s not saying you can choose what you do, when you do, however you want to do it.

We as an organisation provide safeguards and support, but it’s reciprocal because the individual lawyers and all the people within it have to contribute and support and work together.

No person should advantage themselves to the disadvantage of another. It’s quite a good check. There are obligations on both sides to work together as a team for common cause, supporting clients. And within that, there are freedoms. But it takes maturity and it takes responsibility.

Read more:

How an indie publisher is changing attitudes around gender and jobs

workingdads.co.uk launches 2021 survey





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