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‘Expectations have now fundamentally changed’ around flexibility

By Lauren Croft | |9 minute read
Expectations Have Now Fundamentally Changed Around Flexibility

With predictions that working from home will eventually die out and office mandates will return, will flexibility become a less common demand from candidates? Here, recruiters weigh in.

Despite increased back-to-office mandates in the profession and wider workforce, a new study has shown that flexible working is here to stay.

New research from the World Employment Confederation (WEC) shows that businesses are increasingly looking to flexible working to fill labour market gaps – with 92 per cent of respondents confirming this fact.


Following these findings, HR Leader's sister brand, Lawyers Weekly spoke to legal recruiters about how important flexible working is in the context of legal workplaces and whether legal leaders are pushing back on this, as well as how it’s impacting the legal recruitment market broadly.

Carlyle Kingswood Global legal, governance and in-house director Phillip Hunter said that in light of this research, flexible working remains of high priority among candidates.

“It’s clear that we are witnessing a significant shift in employee attitudes towards flexible working arrangements. While the initial years post-lockdown (2022–2023) saw a surge in demand for hybrid models, the trend has now stabilised but remains a critical expectation among candidates,” he said.

“Many organisations we work with have embraced the 3:2 model (three days in the office and two from home), with the ‘TWaT’ model (Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday in the office) also remaining popular. These hybrid set-ups reflect a broader shift towards flexibility, which has become a non-negotiable aspect of the modern workplace. Almost all organisations adopt a flexible yet pragmatic approach, catering for hybrid work arrangements but expecting employees to be present in the office when necessary.”

This has been particularly prevalent post-COVID-19, explained G2 Legal Australia director Daniel Stirling. Following the pandemic, legal recruiters told Lawyers Weekly that firms not offering flexibility would become “second- and third-tier choices” for candidates – particularly in a tight legal market with mid-level lawyers and senior associates in high demand.

“Most law firms and organisations have maintained greater flexibility than they had prior to the pandemic, though some have reduced this flexibility gradually over time. Expectations have now fundamentally changed in that flexibility, and the chance to work from home is a definite requirement for many lawyers when deciding on a new role.

“On the rare occasion that we have a position [that] requires full-time work in the office, this reduces the potential talent pool significantly and makes it more difficult to fill. Even when recruiting hybrid positions, which allow for a split of three days in the office and two at home, which would have been seen as extremely flexible prior to COVID, some lawyers have decided not to apply as they prefer greater flexibility. The impact has been significant as both lawyers and employers have seen that hybrid work can be effective,” he said.

“The challenge can be the balancing act between allowing enough flexibility to attract and retain lawyers while still enabling face-to-face connection and learning opportunities, particularly for more junior lawyers. From a recruiting perspective, flexibility is certainly now a big factor in how ‘fillable’ a role will be given the raised expectations mentioned above. It can certainly be a positive and helpful factor, such as when hiring an in-house role that may be further out of the city.”

Organisations that haven’t embraced flexible working have become harder to find candidates for, added Beacon Legal director Alex Gotch.

“As a legal recruiter, it is challenging if our clients do not permit any WFH days. The vast majority of lawyers will not consider a company if there is not a WFH policy in place,” he said.

“Employers may struggle to successfully hire, and significantly reduce the available talent pool, if they do not operate an attractive WFH policy. We do not see this position changing anytime soon, as the WFH culture is now firmly embedded in the Australian legal market.

LOD head of business operations Anita Thompson echoed a similar sentiment – and said that flexibility should be part of an organisation’s business strategy.

“Hybrid work is no longer just a desirable option but has become a strategic imperative benefiting both employers and employees. This symbiotic relationship is anchored by two crucial elements: trust and communication. Companies must also provide clarity and transparency regarding their work-from-home policies,” she said.

“In recent years, a notable shortage of skilled workers has shifted the job market in favour of employees, granting them a wealth of opportunities. While the pendulum is now beginning to shift, influencing the return to office in various capacities, there’s a growing expectation for increased office presence, which is likely to persist.”

Within Australian legal departments and in-house teams, flexible working has become “entrenched” in the culture, according to Dovetail managing director Andrew Murdoch.

“How readily a company can accommodate flexible working depends on many factors, including seniority, the scope of the work, and the industry. Understandably, companies with large workforces that cannot work from home, construction, retail, and heavy industry are conscious of offering WFH benefits to some but not others,” he said.

“Conversely, companies in remote locations and with longer commutes may need to provide greater flexibility to attract the right lawyers. While WFH has become increasingly popular, we have not seen the same trend in complete remote working.

While “blanket” expectations around WFH and flexibility have been predicted to die out eventually, Hunter argued that rigid policies and office mandates “can significantly reduce the available talent pool”.

“In the past year, only one client insisted on a full-time office requirement. Out of the 54 candidates approached for this role, only seven were amenable to such an arrangement. Although the client ultimately secured a highly qualified Allens senior associate, their options were notably limited due to this inflexibility,” he said.

“While hybrid working is widely accepted, employees must be aware of potential drawbacks. These include limited career development, fewer promotion opportunities, and reduced involvement in key strategic projects. We advise our talent against embedding strict working arrangements in employment contracts, as flexibility to adapt over time – potentially expanding from a 2:3/3:2 model to even more flexible set-ups – can be more beneficial.”

Hunter added that CKG also hears from candidates who want to work from home due to childcare responsibilities – but that for organisations to allow flexibility, “working from home should not detract from productivity”; something his clients have emphasised.

“There is frustration among some employers that staff working from home are sometimes more engaged in home-related tasks than in their professional duties. Maintaining a strong focus on work is essential, regardless of the location.

“Interestingly, we find that some candidates list culture as important to them as the opportunity to work from home more often than from the office. This raises an amusing point – if you’re not there, does culture matter as much? If you wish to engage in the culture, it might be better to head into the office and be a more active and present participant,” he added.

“The competition for top talent remains fierce, with hybrid models playing a crucial role in attracting and retaining employees, among other factors (salary is still very high on the list). Nevertheless, fully remote working, particularly in the legal sector, remains less viable. Those aspiring to high-level positions may find that full remote work does not align with their career ambitions, even in the tech space, which was a champion of remote working to start with.”

As such, a “delicate balance” between what legal candidates want and organisations requirements will continue moving forward, added Thompson

“Factors driving a return to the office include a quality work environment, workplace design, better technological features, and a general positive workplace experience. It’s not solely about the work environment; it’s about community, being social, culture and vibrancy. You cannot underestimate the positive impact of human connection,” she added.

“The return-to-the-office debate has become even more complex by the introduction of new workplace law changes pushed through by the current government, including the right for employees to disconnect, which is difficult to discern in practice. Despite some resurgence of office attendance, the hybrid model will likely remain favourable, offering employees ‘the best of both worlds’.”

This article was originally featured Lawyers Weekly.


Hybrid working

In a hybrid work environment, individuals are allowed to work from a different location occasionally but are still required to come into the office at least once a week. With the phrase "hybrid workplace," which denotes an office that may accommodate interactions between in-person and remote workers, "hybrid work" can also refer to a physical location.


The practice of actively seeking, locating, and employing people for a certain position or career in a corporation is known as recruitment.

Remote working

Professionals can use remote work as a working method to do business away from a regular office setting. It is predicated on the idea that work need not be carried out in a certain location to be successful.

Jack Campbell

Jack Campbell

Jack is the editor at HR Leader.