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Law firms ‘may be slower’ on four-day week
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24 Feb 2023 / employment Print

Law firms ‘may be slower’ on four-day week

One of the leaders of the movement for a standard four-day week has said that law firms may take longer than businesses in other sectors to embrace the idea.

Four-day Week Global published results this week of a six-month study into 61 British companies that signed up to a model where staff worked 80% of their hours, but received 100% of their salary.

A similar trial was conducted among a number of Irish businesses last year.

According to the Law Society Gazette of England and Wales, the initial findings seem to suggest that workers benefited from the change, absenteeism was down, and productivity did not drop in most cases.

The campaign group says that the majority of participants in the study will continue with a four-day week.

Cultural norms

The Gazette says, however, that the pilot scheme found no law firms willing to take part.

While a handful of firms in the UK already operate a four-day week – and similar trials in other parts of the world did attract legal practices – campaigners admit it will be a slower process to persuade lawyers to switch.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang (programmes director of Four Day Week Global) said: “My own experience from working with companies is that cultural norms in the legal profession, and the habits created by billable hours, make it especially challenging to move to a four-day week – but there is interest in it.”

‘Need for change’

Pang said that law firms in Canada, Denmark and the North had shortened their working weeks along the model the group advocated, and managing partners from other firms had asked how to prevent burn-out of their lawyers.

“I think there’s a widespread recognition that current legal practice burns people out unnecessarily, shortens the careers of people the profession would benefit from having, and makes for worse law, and needs to change,” he stated.

“Figuring out how to redesign legal practice, and managing the transition to more sustainable careers and practice, is the challenge,” Pang concluded.

Revenue rose

The pilot scheme in the UK, which ran from June to December 2022, found that revenue rose by 1.4% on average across all companies, and staff attrition fell by 57%.

Meanwhile, 90% of employees said that they definitely wanted to continue with a four-day week, and 55% reported an increase in their ability at work.

A similar trial conducted in 12 businesses in Ireland last year continued after being described as “completely successful”.

All of the 12 companies that took part in the six-month trial will continue with a four-day week – with just three uncommitted to keeping it long-term. Two of the unnamed companies involved were in the ‘professional services’ category.

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland