The legal profession gives least support to lawyers caring for relatives who are not their children, a poll of freelance lawyers has found.
The survey also found that a large majority of freelancers thought that lawyers without children were often overlooked too.
Only 5% of freelancers believed that “enough is done in the legal profession generally” to support lawyers with “other” caring responsibilities.
They were followed by lawyers whose children had “special/additional needs” (7%) and women going through the menopause (9%).
A large majority of freelance lawyers said they thought the profession did not do enough to support lawyers who had no children – “by choice or otherwise”.
The survey was carried out by Pinsent Masons Vario, the freelance lawyer arm of the national law firm.
Of the 56 freelance lawyers who responded to its ‘modern families’ survey, 82% believed the pandemic had “positively impacted how those with family responsibilities are viewed by the legal profession in general”.
One said that “even my most traditional clients came to see that working from home does not adversely affect productivity”.
Another commented that working from home had “forced many senior lawyers to confront the realities” faced by junior and female colleagues.
“Previously they could more persuasively argue that insane law firm hours and a culture of presenteeism was simply how things ought to be done.”
The vast majority of freelancers (96%) did not think a traditional working week was “fit for purpose for a modern lawyer”.
One said: “At different times in your life, especially as a working parent or carer for others, you can need more flexibility than a traditional working week provides.
“You can still do a great job and make a significant contribution outside of this amount and pattern of hours.”
A large majority of those polled said their home life was an important driver in their decision to work in this way.
“Practising law is demanding and the most highly regulated profession,” reflected one freelancer. “The legal profession needs to allow practitioners statutory sabbaticals along the career path and locked-in return dates so lawyers can rest up and return energised for client work.
“That’s why I do my freelancing work. I am in control of my recovery from excessively demanding projects with tight turnaround times.”
A large majority (88%) said not enough was done in the legal profession to support working parents.
The decision to include a question on lawyers without children in the survey was praised by one respondent, who described it as “an important issue which was not given the attention it deserves”.
Another said: “I was one of those child-free people and therefore I was the one selected to provide support to corporate teams on deals because it was perceived that I could work all through the night and at weekends because I don’t have kids.”
Matthew Kay, Pinsent Masons partner and managing director of Vario, said: “The most important thing now is to continue this conversation to not just increase awareness of the myriad of different issues which can impact a lawyer’s day-to-day life, but also ensure the most appropriate solutions are being made available.
“That can be everything from different career paths, such as freelancing, or firmwide policies which promote diversity and inclusivity.”