Women Leaders: how to work flexibly AND keep your clients happy

Posted on: March 18, 2015

Is it possible to combine flexible working, innovative service delivery and value for money?

Donna Sewell and Helen Goldberg have created an innovative legal services business called Legal Edge, providing high quality in house legal services to businesses, at an affordable price.  They have 12 consultants working for them all of whom work flexibly. By using creative ways to structure how their work is delivered (such as remote working and job shares) they are able to guarantee to their clients the level and responsiveness of service they need, whilst also giving their consultants the flexibility they want – everybody wins!

Flexible working is a hot topic at the moment, and is often presented as being in conflict with the needs of the business.  The Legal Edge model shows that this does not need to be the case.

Also, it is typically seen as being an issue exclusively for working mothers, yet some of their consultants are fathers who want to be more involved with child care, or lawyers of either gender who have other passions in life they want to pursue.

A flexible workplace is a more humane workplace, which supports well rounded individuals with good judgment and wisdom.  By making flexibility available to both genders and to non-parents it takes it out of the realm of perceived special privileges for working mothers. I interviewed them on the fifth anniversary of their business:

You could have stayed on a more conventional career path.  What made you take the risk to strike out into uncharted territory?

Working as a heads of legal for tech and media companies we had a real need for good, flexible lawyers who could work effectively in a fast paced company environment where the legal function has to constantly prove its worth.

Five years ago the only options were a law firm secondee or an interim contractor but neither were right. The law firms would send trainees and you’d spend more time teaching them how to do things than it was worth. That’s no help at all when you are busy – you need people who can hit the ground running.

It made us appreciate that in-house lawyers have a unique skill set and a common sense, commercial approach which is really only learned from working inside a business. We also realised that with nothing else available, there was a niche in the market and a business opportunity.

We knew that there would be other in-house counsel who needed the kind of flexible support we had both searched for in our previous roles so wanted to offer that service. It was also clear that SME businesses could gain the most from good, pragmatic in-house support but wouldn’t be in a position to add to head count. It became evident very quickly that there were lots of opportunities for our business.

We’ve worked inside fast-growth companies and are entrepreneurs ourselves so can genuinely say we understand how to run a business – something few lawyers do – and that really helps when talking to clients.

We’ve grown our business by taking on highly experienced in house lawyers who want to work flexibly as consultants and are attracted to the high quality yet flexible work we can offer them.

What is your vision for your business and for legal services?   

We believe that there’s a job of work to be done in changing perceptions about lawyers. We aren’t the ‘no’ brigade or a cost centre and nor should we only be a “disaster purchase”.

Skilled in-house lawyers deliver a return on investment by working pro-actively, spotting and eradicating problems before they arise, protecting business assets and negotiating contracts well.

We’re great at shaping businesses so they can thrive, at freeing up management teams to get on and grow the business and also acting as a sounding-board – these all add value.

We’ve put ROI at the centre of our offering and are redefining how legal services are provided. That’s about making sure you are using the right resource for the right project.

We want to make in-house lawyers more accessible to lots more SME businesses who may never have worked that way before. We’re also committed to supporting those working in-house by giving them access to the kind of flexible, on-demand resource that we wanted when we were in their shoes.

We also want to demonstrate that it is possible to provide a high quality, cost effective service and offer our consultants flexible working arrangements. It does not have to be either/or.

What advice would you give to any woman lawyer who wants to make a difference? 

As women, and particularly women lawyers, we often think about all the things that we are not good at or all the reasons why we might fail – and we forget how much we do know and are good at.

We work differently from men, we’re generally more collaborative and we don’t let our egos get in the way. Those are things we should all be confident and proud of, so believe in yourself and just do it!