There is a lot of talk about flexibility and hybrid working. Yet too often, when we dig deeper, flexibility is minimal and the gains almost non-existent. So Coulter Legal, a respected Geelong-based legal firm, has decided it is time to break the mould and take the concept of flexibility and hybrid working to a whole new level.

Importantly, it is proving to be a gamechanger for their recruitment and retention objectives.

Almost all their people take up some form of flexibility. This can include varying start and finish times, compressed working weeks, part-time hours and working from home or from an office closer to their own home. They are proud they have managed to conceive and adopt a flexibility model which is possible to offer to all their people, regardless of their position. The model ensures all employees can take advantage of the scheme in an equitable manner for their own circumstances.

“We pride ourselves on our individualised approach to flexibility,” says Belinda Perisic, General Manager. They have embraced their employees’ parenting needs and turned it into a competitive advantage.

The legal industry is often known for its rigid philosophies and partnership structures which do not support partners or principals in any part-time capacity. Not so Coulter Legal who have Alicia Carroll, Principal Lawyer and Head of Corporate & Commercial. She is taking advantage of the scheme choosing a four-day working week with excess load spread across the team. Bonnie Phillips, Head of Family & Relationship Law is currently on parental leave and will return in a part-time capacity in 2023.  The team are already working on a delegation structure to ensure that Bonnie is well supported in he return to work next year.

Coulter Legal
Two additional game changers include the extension of the parental leave policy to 18 weeks and the removal of any distinguishment between primary and secondary carers. Upon the introduction of these measures, they immediately went from two to three taking it up per year to seven in 2022. The program also includes paid superannuation on unpaid leave up to 52 weeks, paid leave for pregnancy loss, paid leave for IVF treatment, and additional support on return to work including part-time and staggered returns.

Quite simply, employees are trusted to work flexibly in clearly outlined relationships. For instance, Belinda personally feels it is important to mirror the values of Coulter Legal, so she chooses to do child drop-off and pick-up every day. One day, excess traffic after drop-off caused her to run late to an interview. “Whilst the situation was not ideal, it was the best way to demonstrate to the candidate that we are serious about flexibility and understand people have responsibilities outside of work.”

Graduates are included in the scheme too. One of the newly hired grads works remotely from Gippsland. She comes into the Melbourne office as agreed. The company have been inventive at ensuring adequate systems are in place for this graduate to use collaboration tools to ask questions and stay on track.

Given the number of employees working flexibly, you could argue they are out of sight and that this might impact their ability to progress their careers. The Coulter Legal team have that covered with a robust talent planning system which ensures people are assessed based on their performance and career aspirations. People are not disadvantaged by taking parental leave as promotions are given to those most deserving. Belinda advised, “We recently promoted a lawyer into a very senior position and then immediately put that on hold so that she could take her maternity leave and focus on her family. She will begin in her new role when she returns to the business in 2023.”

Empathy is one of their foundational considerations as demonstrated by their Family Violence Leave Policy. This allows staff to take the time they need to escape domestic violence through offering paid leave and additional support, including through their Employee Assistance Program. In circumstances where someone shares that they are living in or escaping from family violence, they take a very caring and confidential stance to ensure their staff member is safe first.

Managing Principal, Anne O’Loughlin, also commented that “Coulter Legal are committed to addressing the changing needs of the team on an ongoing basis and that it is part of the strategic plan at Coulter Legal to remain flexible and focused on their people.”

Coulter Legal is incredibly proud of its diversity, in particular their gender equality. They are 80% women and have equal representation of women and men across both Executive and Leadership levels. Clearly, it’s a great place to work!