Linklaters pilots new ‘reliable working hours’ career option for associates

Linklaters is piloting a new career model for associates, allowing them to work fewer hours for a proportionally reduced salary.

The scheme, named ‘YourLink’, is being trialled in the firm’s four German offices from 1 May.

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Linklaters describes it as “a new working time and career model… which guarantees a long-term perspective with reliable, regular working hours. With this alternative career track, Linklaters offers its employees the opportunity to work on top mandates in an international environment while at the same time meeting their personal needs.”

Lawyers signing up for the scheme will work a regular 40-hour week, agreeing the exact clock-in and clock-out times with the firm. They will not be expected to check their emails out of hours, though they would be expected to be available to speak if, for example, they were the only person who knew where a certain document was.

The YourLink model is open to new starters and experienced lawyers, and it is possible to change to the ‘classic’ career track.

Linklaters has run focus groups and conducted anonymous surveys with its lawyers to develop the program. Speaking to The Lawyer, the firm’s head of HR in Germany Thomas Schmidt said it is still too early to tell what the take up will be.

“It is fair to say that there has been a lot of interest, but when you implement something that breaks with the traditional working patterns of the industry there will always be caution,” he said. “It may take time before people see role models showing that it works, so while I don’t think there will be people immediately storming my office to change their career path I am confident it will catch on.” Schmidt says that in time, the firm anticipates that 10 to 20 per cent of lawyers in the German offices could work in this model.

Recent graduates choosing YourLink will receive €80,000 in their first year of the job, instead of the €120,000 offered on the ‘classic’ career path. This is followed by a gradual percentage salary increase in accordance with their performance and seniority, though salary progression on the YourLink model will not be as steep as on the ‘classic’ career route.

“The figure is significantly less than for those on the classic path, because we wanted to acknowledge the extra availability and responsibility that lawyers on the classic track have to show,” Schmidt said. “On the other hand, we do want the salary to compete with in-house positions of big companies like Deutsche Bank, Siemens or Lufthansa that might offer similar working patterns.”

Schmidt said that one of the incentives to trial the scheme in the firm’s German offices was the smaller pool of graduate talent in that country, with potential hires lured away to governmental positions or roles in business by the prospect of a better work-life balance.

“We have discussed it with global HR, and there is interest in other parts of the network – whether they will choose to use exactly the same model, I don’t know,” he added. “We are doing quite a lot of things around flexibility, such as investment into technology to enable remote working, so there can be a variety of models.”

A Linklaters London spokesperson said: “We are treating the German 40-hour week model as a pilot to understand how it works and how it might be adopted in other markets. It is an example of how we are trying to innovate with different types of flexible working to ensure we attract and retain the very best talent.” 

One of the concerns that was raised when Linklaters was mooting YourLink was that it would create a two-tier system among associates. “That’s a concern we take seriously,” Schmidt said. “We are clear they will do the same high quality work with colleagues in the same teams, have the same opportunities for training, and the same career opportunities – though they might progress slightly slower as it will take them longer to achieve the relevant amount of experience.”

“For us, the people who are working on a deal have become more diverse anyway,” he continued. “We are working with resourcing allocation managers, paralegals, third party providers, so we are already staffing the deal as efficiently as we can. Allocating people with different working patterns means there will be more diversity, but in terms of the standards that they will have to meet, there will be no compromise.”