b'PEOPLE| LEGAL SECTOR| 2020SUSTAINABILITY INSIGHTFLEXIBLE WORKING As a result of the COVID pandemic, the most significant and sudden change for many in the legal profession has been working from home. The impact of this has been felt at both a personal and professional level.Not only are many lawyers and support staff working from home, but in most cases their clients were also similarly disrupted.To add to the challenge domestic cohabitants (including young and school aged children and other household members) were often also home.And finally, almost overnight, courts switched to remote or highly restricted hearings, lodging and other document processing. Forcing the move from established office-based environments which have been in place for many generations has broken down some of the misconceptions about flexible and remote working. However, the lack of control over the pace and extent of the change means there have also been problems and losses incurred by businesses and employees. We now need to review the benefits and the costs of remote working to both individuals and their firms and consider strategies to manage the blend of home and office-based environments.Last year we wrote that flexibility was becoming increasingly important to AusLSA member employees as workers sought to balance competing life opportunities and priorities. We observed that more and more Australian law firms were successfully adjusting the way they worked and the systems they had in place that allowed people to contribute effectively and efficiently to their workplace by providing more time and location flexibility. Fast-forward 12 months and this groundwork has enabled most law firms to successfully serve their clients, support their employees, maintain commercial viability and for many, to even grow their businesses.Flexible working programs have provided organisational resilience and commercial continuity.There is little doubt that the ability of firms to transition to remote working so quickly was more seamless than it would have been as little as five years ago. During this time investment in developing the technology and processes to support flexible working has improved dramatically and enabled many firms to quickly expand their working from home option as circumstances dictated.Many of the assumptions and perceived pain points that were barriers to and slowed the broader adoption of flexible working have not only been tested, they have proved to be overstated, easily overcome or reduced by the unique combination of organisation-wide commitment, adaptation, the critical mass appetite for tolerance and flexibility and a core expectation for both working lawyers and partners. Flexibility is linked to a wide range of organisational benefits, including:operation continuity in times of extreme disruptionhigher retentionattracting new talent higher individual performance reduced absenteeismimproved organisational performance and productivity. Flexible working also has a significant impact on enabling gender equality in the workplace. Female workforce participation rates have grown from sixty-five percent to seventy-four percent between 2015 and 2019. More women in the workforce emphasises the need to accommodate the responsibilities shared by both women and men in family life. Having someone who requires care disrupts the career paths of the higher proportion of women who provide home based caring. This can drive a reduction in the participation of women in the workforce, including law firms, between the ages of thirty and fifty-four. Flexible work policies encourage the sharing of family responsibilities.Australian state-based law societies have been active in helping firms to deliver improved flexibility for their practicing members. The Queensland Law Society has developed a Flexible Working GroupThe Law Society of New South Wales has published online resources on flexible workThe New South Wales Bar Association has a number of resources on its websiteVictorian Women Lawyers have published Flexible Work Protocolsa best practice guide for productive and engaged legal workplaces.The Law Society of Western Australia has adopted the Victorian Women Lawyers Flexible Work Protocols. FORMAL POLICY PAID PARENTAL LEAVEYes 100% Yes 100%24'