Law firms are often steeped in tradition, but Cooney Lees Morgan (CLM) is taking a profoundly modern approach to ensure its staff – and the business – continue to thrive now and into the future.
Flexible work arrangements have been formalised and embraced with staff working from home on an ‘ad hoc’ and permanent basis.
Job sharing is allowed where possible and 40-year-old mother of two, Rebecca Graham (pictured, black dress), has just become the first person to be appointed a partner while continuing to work part-time.
Her fellow partner and former Business Women’s Network (BWN) chairperson, Mary Hill (pictured, patterns), has been instrumental in steering the firm in this sustainable direction. She helped devise a formal policy and set of principles to guide decision-making on flexible working requests as soon as she joined the partnership four years ago.
“The challenge is to ensure requests are dealt with equitably, and that the teams within our firm still function well.
“I think lockdown was really helpful in demonstrating that it can work and in fact, people are often more productive when they are working in their chosen environment,” Mary says. “From my perspective, it’s just about treating people as responsible adults.”
Mary says it’s also crucial to invest in people and take a long-term view. “One thing we’ve really worked on is seeing talent in our ranks and then nurturing that and bringing them through.”
This involves giving staff support and training, and can avoid the costs and risks associated with hiring from outside the firm, which is a challenge in the current environment.
Many of our staff have been with the firm for 10 years or more. “One reason is because we keep providing opportunities for people to grow rather than just assuming people want to stay pigeon-holed in their current role.”
One standout example of that approach is Senior Associate Alesha Evetts (pictured, grey jacket).
At age 18, she began picking up coffee cups as the office junior while assessing whether the legal industry was right for her. A law degree and summer clerking positions back at CLM soon followed. She has since risen through the ranks and now heads the family law team – one of the busiest practices in the firm.
“Cooneys was supportive and exposed me to all aspects of the firm right from the start,” she says.
“During my time clerking, I spent one summer learning trust accounting, then another summer working closely with a conveyancer, so I learned the A to Z of property transactions. I also worked for a partner who encouraged me to develop my legal skills whilst I was still completing my studies. This made the transition from legal assistant to lawyer relatively seamless.”
Rebecca Graham’s ascension to the partnership table also illustrates the benefits of providing support for employees. When her first child was born six years ago, she took time off and started back at just two days a week. Her hours have slowly increased, and she currently works three full days and two half days.
“It’s really important to be able to maintain my life outside of work and be there for my children. But also, I wanted to become a Partner because that’s the next step in my career.”
Rebecca acknowledges the new part-time partnership arrangement is a “leap of faith” for both parties, but she’s excited to get involved in running the firm which now has 90+ employees.
After Sally Powdrell’s retirement from the partnership last year, Rebecca is now one of two female partners in the nine-strong group and does feel a sense of responsibility to make the new arrangement work so other women can follow suit.
“There’s lots of really good female lawyers but the figures still show that senior positions in law are male dominated. It’s good to be a role model in that regard so more female leaders can come through in the future.”
Senior Associate and BWN committee member, Tanya Drummond (pictured, blue), says the firm’s flexible work arrangements have taken a huge amount of stress off her shoulders. With five children and two dogs to care for, as well as a full-time role in the corporate and commercial team, not having to go into the office each day allows her to be as efficient and productive as possible.
“I work from home at least two days a week, and I can change those days if I need to. Because I’m at home and not having to worry about traffic, or getting into office attire or other office distractions, I can actually sit down and plough through a lot of work so it’s actually easier to meet my targets.”
Tanya applauds CLM for its commitment to sustain good staff and nurture their careers.
“CLM is solutions focused. They are flexible enough to make things work rather than saying ‘you need to fit into this box’ and I think that’s really progressive. As a result, the firm retains and grows great people, so it is definitely a win-win situation.”
Cooney Lees Morgan is a principal sponsor of the upcoming BWN Speaker Series 2021, a two-day event hosted by the Tauranga Chamber of Commerce to connect business women with inspirational speakers.