If there is one good thing that arose out of the COVID-19 pandemic, it would be that it has significantly changed the way businesses, including law firms, work.
Under the rules as at the date of writing, work from home (“WFH”) is the default mode in Singapore since disaster struck in late in 2019. While many business owners relish the day they can bring everyone back to the office, That.Legal LLC sees things from a slightly different perspective and has taken it one step further to make WFH a permanent and sustainable arrangement for new hire and new mother, Gillian Tan.
Not only is Gillian able to perform legal services remotely, her role with That.Legal is actually a promotion from her previous job where she was a Senior Associate. That.Legal’s digital practice operating procedures has come in really handy in Gillian’s case because not only has it allowed Gillian to manage her own work efficiently, she is now able to take on a management role to lead and inspire junior associates in That.Legal’s trade marks team. She conducts weekly team meetings via Zoom, keeps the firm’s files up to date using Microsoft SharePoint and keeps track of the team’s progress using the firm’s practice management system, Tessaract.io.
Gillian’s job scope primarily entails the management of international trade mark portfolios. She advises clients on pre-filing brand protection strategies, assists clients in overcoming office objections wherever their applications may be, and manages post-registration matters such as renewals, commercialisation and enforcement of intellectual property rights.
Working on the firm’s international desk is definitely an advantage in Gillian’s case – many of her cross-border interactions do not entail meetings in person. Mark Teng, Executive Director at That.Legal LLC affirms this working arrangement and chimes in saying,
“Gillian has extensive experience working with our international network of IP lawyers in different jurisdictions and is able to deliver high quality advice to our clients wherever their global expansion plans take them. Gillian knows the international etiquette, the time tested operating procedures, and just in general, the way that things are done in the trade mark world. This undoubtedly adds great value to the firm.”
Gillian’s remote work arrangement is certainly a positive one – for herself, her family, and the firm. This working arrangement allows her the flexibility that she appreciates as a working mother.
“This arrangement minimises the decisions that I have to make if I were to be working from the office, such as when and where to pick my baby up… not having to worry about all these little things leaves me with the right headspace for quality work,” Gillian says.
It is this autonomy over her own work schedule that has Gillian feeling more empowered and in control of her life.
“I can take the time to focus on whatever I want to do, and the flexibility of being able to clock in hours on the weekend when I take time off during the weekday is great.”
This is especially pertinent in Gillian’s case, as she can then give her undivided attention to her newborn son. Being able to spend more quality time with her baby was definitely a compelling reason for her to join That.Legal under remote working conditions.
The flexibility that WFH brings is not without challenges. Gillian achieves a good balance by setting physical and mental boundaries between work and private life. This is so that her son understands that she will be busy during certain time periods, after which, she is free to spend time with him.
Of course, the ability to set such boundaries that work is testament to Gillian’s steely discipline as well.
“I tell myself that I’m going to clock in a solid four hours from morning till lunchtime, so I am productive for the time which I set out, and then I am free to do other things.”
Having taken on a management role definitely adds to the degree of flexibility that she has.
As a senior, Gillian believes in nurturing and sharing her knowledge with junior associates. Managing a team is a relatively new aspect in Gillian’s professional journey. Yet, she thinks of it as a collaborative one rather than merely “supervisory”.
“I’ve learnt to delegate work more efficiently and am also learning how to give clear instructions and to learn to manage my expectations better.”
An important element that is essential in realising this amazing WFH arrangement, as alluded to earlier, is the technological infrastructure at That.Legal. With teleconferencing tools, work tracking systems, and a working knowledge on how to operate them now considered vital in the workplace, the systems for digital communication are now more robust than ever. That.Legal has weekly trade mark team meetings, and Gillian finds them to be more efficient online.
“You have everything open in front of you, as compared to printing handouts or fiddling with the projector connection in the office. In fact, I find everyone to be more conscious of time on Zoom, and that helps keep everyone on track to discuss matters and get work done,” she observes.
The hardware such as multiple screens and devices helps tremendously, for example, when the team was presenting an overview of a trade mark portfolio entailing 4 trade marks in 3 classes in over 32 jurisdictions. There’s a great deal of data that can be conveniently presented just like that on a big screen at home. Similarly, on the software side, That.Legal uses a time signing tool to clock office hours as well, making sure everyone is on track. In a bid to segregate professional and private life, the team sends “Good morning” and “Off the desk” messages are sent in group chats to indicate their current working status.
“I appreciate not having to ask for time off to … be a parent. You no longer have to weigh doing something against doing another thing, and there is no stress about sacrificing one over the other,” Gillian shares.
Instead of viewing remote working as a bane, Gillian sees it is very much as a boon that creates interesting opportunities for employees to work flexibly and productively. Far from realising a common worry of employers about employees working too flexibly, remote working does indeed provide a healthy work-life balance, with the aid of both software and hardware that keeps productivity levels up.
So far Gillian’s fears of struggling to return to the workforce as a new mum have largely been unfounded.
“Gone are the days of choosing between career and family!”
This article does not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion on any matter discussed and, accordingly, it should not be relied upon. It should not be regarded as a comprehensive statement of the law and practice in this area. If you require any advice or information, please speak to a practicing lawyer in your jurisdiction. No individual who is a member, partner, shareholder or consultant of, in or to any constituent part of Interstellar Group Pte. Ltd. accepts or assumes responsibility, or has any liability, to any person in respect of this article.