Working Dads Combining Law and Life: How to find the Balance
We look at the power of flexible working and how it is beneficial for working parents: mothers and fathers.
Written by Toby Walker, Director and Head of Dispute Resolution, Hedges Law.
As I sit down to write this article, I’ve just finished a lunch-time training session with a running coach and some of our team. 25 of us are running the Oxford Half Marathon in October to raise money for Homeless Oxfordshire, our annual charity, and nominated by our staff. I love that Hedges is able to demonstrate how much we care about our community and the people in it –as well as doing our bit to dispel the myth that lawyers are lacking in souls!
I absolutely love being a lawyer and all that comes with it; standing in the gap for clients, representing, negotiating, advising and supporting people. But there’s another love in my life that is just as important: life outside work. I’d rank my passions in the following order: family, friends, cooking, running and climbing mountains.
A number of factors have made the achievement of this balance possible for me.
I am a proud dad to a 5-year-old girl and a 3-year-old boy and our third child is on the way – literally any day now. My wife and I both have full-time careers. As a renowned writer and speaker, my wife often travels internationally, which necessarily means periods of time away from home. Needless to say, balancing our busy work lives and childcare arrangements is a complex and ever-evolving task! We parent as a team, and with our family as a priority, have tried to help each other in pursuing our careers, which for both of us is more of a calling.
I run a busy caseload, leading the Dispute Resolution Team at Hedges Law and in February 2017 became a Director at the firm. The progression took place over a fairly short period of time and somewhere along the way I managed to gain my accreditations as a Solicitor Advocate and also as a Mediator. For the last 5 years my work life has been intermingled with school runs, infants’ plays, doctors’ appointments (some scheduled and some very much not!) and all of the other joys that parenting brings.
Productivity is measured not by “clock watching” but in focusing on the outcome of optimal client care.
A number of factors have made the achievement of this balance possible for me. The first is the culture here at Hedges Law, that positively encourages and values people with diverse backgrounds and family situations. Beyond just words on a policy document, I have experienced the translation of this into genuine freedom and flexibility which enables me to approach my work in an increasingly more modern way. This culture is set from the top down, with all of our Directors practising what we preach and all of our systems set up to allow us to work remotely, at home or indeed from anywhere we choose.
Secondly, productivity is measured not by “clock watching” but in focusing on the outcome of optimal client care. And that goes for staff too: one of our core company values is having an inspiring working environment and we keep a close watch on how we are doing by having monthly one-to-one reviews with all staff. The focus at Hedges is on care and respect. Having healthy conversations is another core value: talking through any issues on a regular basis before they become ‘problems’ is key. Lastly, and probably the most fundamental reason of all is that I have a very supportive wife and we both make sacrifices and positively encourage each other in following our dreams in our professional lives.
Whilst times may have changed for working mothers in the workplace, I do wonder whether that’s less the case for working fathers?
WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES?
There is no doubt that even when you’re in a flexible working culture, being a litigator means that some court deadlines simply can’t be moved and that can result in me having to slog it out late into the night (or at the crack of dawn). Because of the value placed on family and flexible working at Hedges, the quid pro quo is that I can make up for this with a later start or earlier finish another time: I don’t feel the need to clock watch but am able to move my working hours to suit my various demands.
It definitely helps me deal better with work and keeps me happy.
I’m well aware that not every organisation or law firm positively encourages and supports working parents, and certainly not at partner or director level, so I count myself lucky. Whilst times may have changed for working mothers in the workplace, I do wonder whether that’s less the case for working fathers? I genuinely feel blessed to be able to have such an equal, hands-on parenting role while still achieving my professional goals, having gone from being a junior team member to team leader and director in the same 5 years that my children joined our family!
And finally, one added benefit of this is just how much it keeps my feet on the ground: I’m not sure there’s anything to put a day of high-pressure litigation complexities into perspective like coming home to discuss Batman or Kung Fu Panda details with a 3-year-old. It definitely helps me deal better with work and keeps me happy.