Opinion – UK Law Soc Gazette: A matter of time: Why lawyers should embrace four-day week

n recent years, the idea of the universal four-day working week – 80% time, 100% output, 100% pay – has edged gradually towards the mainstream.

Emma Haywood

Emma Haywood

Following last year’s coordinated four-day week trial in the UK, the 61 participating organisations reported no loss of revenue despite the reduction in working time. Staff attrition rates fell significantly, employee wellbeing and work/life balance improved and 92% of participants opted to continue with the shorter week.

So far, so good – save for one notable absence. The trial attracted participants from a broad range of industries, but not a single law firm. For some, ‘cultural norms‘ are to blame for lawyers’ reluctance to explore the four-day week. But as professional problem-solvers, isn’t it about time we applied a critical eye to the benefits and challenges of this new way of working?

I write from personal experience of working a four-day week as a solicitor, both as a magic circle senior associate and as associate general counsel at a high-growth technology company.

My four-day story starts like those of many other working parents in pursuit of balance on returning from parental leave. Inspired by the wider four-day week movement (and always mindful of cautionary tales of doing five or more days’ work for 80% pay), I approach my arrangement as an operating model based on four key principles:

1. Productivity: eliminating unnecessary meetings, streamlining repeatable processes and grouping similar tasks together.

2. Delegation: creating practical development opportunities for junior colleagues by supporting them to ‘steer the ship’ on my non-working day.

3. Personalisation: scheduling Wednesday (rather than the commonly assumed Friday) as my non-working day, to align with deadlines and client needs.

4. Boundaries with flexibility: acknowledging that my four-day week will not succeed unless I commit to my boundaries. This is an ongoing challenge, but the important counterbalance is flexibility. Colleagues and clients respect my four-day week, confident that I am prepared to triage and resolve genuinely urgent issues on my non-working day.