There are various drivers forcing law firms to embrace a more diverse workforce and to attract, promote and retain talent from all backgrounds, regardless of gender, gender-identity, race, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, age, and socio-economic class (to name but a few).
Not only is the pressure on to have employees that reflect the society in which we live, but there is an increasing recognition that diversity leads to better decision making and increased profitability.
What are companies doing
Some clients now require law firms to attest to their Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) policies and progress in pitches.
When Novartis International, the Swiss multinational pharmaceutical company, was renewing its legal panel last year, for example, it required successful firms to “commit to a minimum of 30% of billable associate time and 20% of partner time to be provided by females, ethnically diverse, and LGBTQ+ professionals.”
Coca-Cola earlier this year announced it will start penalising its panel law firms with reduced fees if they fail to deliver on diversity commitments. Commitments like this are very important, especially since some of the larger law firms they work with are the very firms where progress needs to be made, and not in a way that is mere tokenism.
“..there is an increasing recognition that diversity leads to better decision making and increased profitability.”
However, to be fair, most leading law firms have a D&I strategy and claim to be working on the problem. Some have boldly set quotas and targets for the number of female partners they hope to see by x year.
Others like my firm have deliberately changed their recruitment process to tap into talent from a wider range of universities and to eliminate potential discrimination in the way applicants are assessed and chosen (this applies at a trainee level and for more senior roles by the way).
What should you look for when researching the job market and interviewing to check the law firms commitment to D&I?
Here is my check-list of things you should consider to help you decipher whether there is genuine follow through on D&I commitments:
- What are the gender pay-gap figures and does the firm in question report on ethnicity pay-gap even though this is not yet an obligation?
- What diversity figures are publicly available about the firm, and how do the percentages compare with national averages?
- Has the firm made any promises / announced targets in relation to D&I, and what, if any, progress has been reported?
- Does the firm’s website/blogs/social media posts feature diverse faces, names, and content?
- Does the firm have dedicated internal committees to champion D&I issues, and how active do they appear to be?
- Is the firm signed up to any codes or initiatives such as the Halo Code (which protects employees from judgement or discrimination about hairstyles associated with racial, ethnic, religious, and cultural identities) or RARE’s ‘Race Fairness Commitment’?
- Where does their pool of talent come from – which universities do they talk to and which agencies do they use? What is the interview/assessment process?
- Is mentoring something the firm is proud of and does well to support the firm’s diversity efforts beyond the point of recruitment?
- What regular and/or compulsory D&I training is given to staff?
- Do D&I objectives feature in the firm’s Business Plan, Annual Report and appraisal processes, especially for senior leaders?
How else can you check inclusion is high on its agenda
A really simple test is to ask interviewers how they would describe the culture at the firm and what recent D&I initiatives stand out for them. Aside from this, use publicly available sources to look for reviews of the firm, especially from previous and/or current employees.
There is no scientific way to evaluate a firm’s approach to D&I, and there is no one perfect approach to D&I either. However, if D&I is important to you, doing your research is crucial.
If you look at what firms like mine (Kingsley Napley) and others who are actively working to change the face of the profession, you can start to form your own conclusions and see through those whose diversity statements are tokenism with little ‘walking of the talk’.
In my opinion, we are at a meaningful tipping point right now when it comes to an appreciation of the importance of diversity issues, not just gender but diversity in the widest sense. Prospective employees should rightly hold firms to account as this helps to ensure continued progress.
Author Shannett Thompson is a partner at Kingsley Napley LLP, Chair of her firm’s BAME & Allies Network and recently won an award for Outstanding Contribution: Diversity and Inclusion (Private Practice) in the Chambers Europe Awards 2021.
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