When I finally left the corporate world as a General Counsel to set up Artington Legal in 2012, it felt a bit like jumping out of a plane without a parachute. But I was ready to make changes in my life and I knew I wanted to create a different kind of business law firm. So, unsure of what life on the other side would hold, but uplifted by the encouragement of many people around me, I made the jump, and Artington Legal was born. As the author Ray Bradbury once said, “You’ve got to jump off the cliff all the time and build your wings on the way down”.
And so, for the last eight years, I have been building my wings. It has been challenging but immensely satisfying to explore a different way of doing law, and to create a business based on values that matter to me. Artington Legal’s team is made up of experienced lawyers who work together collaboratively as consultants. Each person works remotely, with wide ranging life interests outside the law, facilitating a healthy work/life balance that is rarely found in the corporate world. Our collaborative approach and flat hierarchy enables each lawyer to bring their particular strengths to the mix, creating a work ethic that also serves our clients. We are not driven by billable hour targets, there are no toxic politics or heavyhanded bosses. And there is definitely no indigestion from lunchtime sandwiches wolfed down quickly at the computer.
Working remotely also allows me far more freedom in my life. Whilst I can work from anywhere and at any time of the day, I can also choose when I take time off. I am able to pick my children up from school, or go for a run or bike ride. I have the time to work hard, and to eat well, to ensure that my clients receive excellent service, and to get a good night’s sleep. Though there are certainly deadlines that require going the extra mile, the relentless stress worn as a badge of honour and familiar to so many of us in this industry, is thankfully a distant memory.
I also love that this flexibility has fuelled my own self-discipline. Taking control of how I work and when I work, has not only provided me with a richer life experience, but has given me a greater confidence in my own abilities.
So, fast forward eight years to the beginning of the first COVID lockdown in March. Though my days were oddly unchanged, so many people’s working lives were suddenly turned upside down. For some, this has been an intensely challenging period, whilst others have had the chance to experience a new, less stressful, way of working. Change, however it appears in our lives, always presents opportunities for reflection. It brings with it the possibility of making adjustments that in normal times seem far-fetched or impossible. And to me, that’s an exciting prospect. That we are finally breaking down our commonly-held paradigms of what a working space needs to be, what working hours should be, what an office culture should be. Whatever the post-COVID new normal turns out to be, our industry will need to embrace new ways of working and a new working culture.
So, how should it all be? Well, perhaps that is up to us to choose. I know that I can work in my home office, from a hot desk in London, or for several weeks at a time whilst abroad (COVID permitting). As an early client once said, “So long as you’re there when I need you, I don’t care where you’re based”.
Of course, there are reasons why not everyone is enthusiastically embracing remote working. Lack of social interaction, worry that they won’t have enough self-discipline, or less-than-ideal working conditions in the home. These are all understandable concerns, although few are insurmountable. Technology and regular team meetings recreate much of the social interaction. Colleagues with shared goals keep each other motivated and on-task. Hot desks and business centres can be an enjoyable trade-off for the office.
Eight years on, I realise that any worries I might have had are long-faded. And that nothing matters more to me than seeing my children grow, enjoying my family and friends, and working in a way that is coherent to me. I am paid for doing work I enjoy, with people I want to work with, in the way that I want.
Until you jump you can’t build wings. What’s stopping you?