The theme for International Women’s Day 2019 is #balanceforbetter, an idea that draws together finding balance in the workplace, the home and throughout our community. But balance is as tricky to achieve in the working world as it is on the playground see-saw, because everyone’s lives are a different shape.
In a profession where old standards about the work-family balance still adhere surprisingly often, Canberra law firm DDCS walks the talk on balance and representation.
DDCS has a majority of female partners and solicitors, and over 50 per cent of their staff work part-time. The key here is flexibility and recognition that many people want to grow their careers at the same time as they are raising a family.
DDCS partner Di Simpson says the primary recruitment aim was to find excellent staff and concedes that it would actually be handy to have more male lawyers engaged with family law. But, she says, “we get the challenge of supporting staff who are at that point where they’re trying to progress their careers and have a family. We offer support to all staff, not just the solicitors and that pays off when people who have taken paid leave happily return to work.”
Simpson’s not a fan of having it all: she’d rather look for ways to be more flexible in the workplace and encourage a collegial environment where staff help carry each other’s loads. “The law doesn’t necessarily respect the clock, especially in litigation. We get that, but it has to be swings and roundabouts so people get to have a life and space they need,” she says.
“There is a risk that you make work fit into all the other spaces and end up looking at work emails at 10 pm. We don’t want people to fall into that trap. Protecting your own personal time is really important.”
In practical terms, that might mean partners, as well as staff, leave early to be home for school-age children, something Simpson has done herself. DDCS was also the first, and to date the only, private law firm in Canberra to offer paid parental leave, a matter of considerable pride for the partners.
“Culture has to underpin all this,” Simpson says. “It can’t just be a policy we’ve formulated that looks good. And basically, we don’t want to lose our valued people. There’s a cost to organisations from the loss of staff, but leaving aside the commercial consequences, you lose so much shared history and connectivity with people. It’s good business sense to support someone and keep them connected in challenging years for them.”
Those flexible work policies helped win them the ACT Women Lawyers Association law firm of the year award in 2017, and Simpson points out that the policies benefit men as much as women. It’s also a good fit with the firm’s focus on family law, wills, estates and business succession: essentially, all connected with relationships and personal connections.
DDCS believes the kind of law they practise requires a blend of skill, compassion and emotional intelligence to best guide clients through the changes life can bring. They pride themselves on being advocates on a range of social issues and are committed to encouraging the legal profession to be more than just lawyers.
For more information, visit their website.