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Practical Policies for 4 Day Work Weeks at My Law Firm

March 1, 2021 was the first day my law firm began the 4 day work week project. In my previous blog, I explained the reasons why we decided on this project and the numerous benefits it provides for all involved.

But before implementing the project, we had to think long and hard about our policies to make sure this works. This took a lot of team and individual effort and research, but the measures and policies became very well thought out. I would like to share them for anyone thinking of doing a 4 day week project for their own law firms or other companies.

Without further ado, here we go:

First and Foremost, a Temporary 3 Month Pilot Project

I would never jump into something so drastic and risky permanently. After all we are one of the first law firms for our size in Canada to be implementing this so I want this to be a success. The most important thing I made sure was managing expectations of lawyers and staff:

  • There is a real chance we may revert to 5 working days a week after 3 months;
  • We are shooting for taking over 80% of Wednesdays off, not all of them. In other words, if we have to work on Wednesdays because something urgent comes up, then so be it.

The key is to have the liberty to take the day off, not that it is mandatory to do so. 

Picking Which Day of the Week to Take off

This was very difficult to figure out and we struggled with it. We were torn between Wednesdays and Fridays:

  • Naturally most people would like to have Fridays off because it means long weekends every weekend. But the problem I sensed was that too much work and unanswered emails would pile up to the point that the staff and lawyers would be too stressed out come Monday. That would defeat the purpose which is allowing employees a day off to unplug and relax.
  • Wednesdays provide a nice mid-week break, and people wouldn’t be as stressed out because they would be back to work on Thursdays.

We decided to try out Wednesdays for one month and then maybe try Fridays the next month to see what works better.

Important: we are keeping our phones and offices open 5 days a week as explained below.

Do We Do Make Up Days if We have to Work on a Day Off?

I felt that if someone has to come to work on a Wednesday because of an urgent matter, then they shouldn’t be asking for make up time off. After all, this is a favour or a privilege, not an obligation. Making up for having to work on a Wednesday would create too much chaos and disorganization, and we decided against it.

What About Urgent Matters on Wednesdays?

We had big debates on whether we should set up auto replies telling everyone we are not around or not. At the end I decided against it. Instead I asked the assistants to check the lawyer’s emails at 1 p.m. on Wednesdays for a few minutes and bring up any urgent issues to the lawyer’s attention. This way clients wouldn’t freak out thinking we are not around at all on Wednesdays. Since checking the lawyer’s emails wouldn’t take more than a few minutes, the assistants don’t mind doing this.

What are the Work Hours for a 4 Day Work Week?

I asked our employees to add 1 hour to their shifts – so from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. or 9 to 6 p.m. This means that they would add 4 hours a week to their 4 days and the firm would absorb the remaining 4 hours. This way, our bottom line wouldn’t be hit as hard and generally all employees were extremely receptive and pleased with this arrangement.

Having said the above, I listened to a Podcast by Quinn Ross from the Ross Firm, an Ontario firm close to our size which has implemented the 4 day week work. He stated that they started with 10 hours, 4 days and that didn’t work. They are now doing the normal 8 hours a day, 4 days a week. He reports that profitability and growth have not been negatively impacted at all – in fact, they are on an upward swing.

So I will see how things go for our firm.

The Cool Thing About Our New Office Hours

Given that everyone will be working 9 hours, 4 days a week, we have actually been able to expand our office hours from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. instead of the normal 9 to 5. This is because some staff will work from 8 to 5 and some from 10 to 6, so we can actually expand our service hours instead of reducing them. As explained below, on the date our receptionist is off, another staff members works and instead takes a different day off.

This means all of us except for one person take Wednesdays off.

What About Serving Our Clients on the Day Off?

It is very important to point out something critical here: we are not closing down our firm on Wednesdays. On Wednesdays, our receptionist works and answers the phones (and instead takes another day off). Urgent matters will be brought to the attention of the lawyer and assistant, and business as far as clients go will run as usual. All we are doing is putting in our retainer agreements that we will respond to urgent matters only on Wednesdays, not that we are closed on Wednesdays.

Is Everyone at YLaw Happy About a 4 Day Work Week?

Surprisingly, although most of us are thrilled, some aren’t. Some of our lawyers don’t know how to implement this given the nature of family law in which our calendars are not always under our control. We may have to deal with urgent matters, multiple matters or work 7 days a week to catch up with trial preparation. So understandably some of the lawyers are anxious about actually being able to take Wednesdays off.

My advise has been: you have the option of taking of a day in week, you do not have to. This I find relieves the stress of having to change life around to implement 4 work days a week. This only says we are flexible should you decide to do so.

As for staff, they are all thrilled. Lawyers can have flexible schedules and take time off. Staff have to be at work on rigid shifts. Being able to attend their appointments, be with their family and unplug allows them freedom and autonomy and in many ways helps them with mental and physical wellness.

I will be sure to report back after one month to see where we are, and whether we need to change anything. 

Until then my friends, stay physically and mentally well.

Written by Leena Yousefi. 

To read about the reason why we implemented our 4 day weeks, click here.