UK: Law Firms Catching Up With Regard To Diversity

Last Updated: 13 March 2019
Article by Giambrone Law ILP

There has been a steady change in the attitude and approach of the more enlightened London law firms since the shake-up delivered by the Legal Services Act 2007.  There is a more responsive way of thinking driven by the recognition that the competitive advantage can be gained by consciously reflecting the demands and especially the diversity of their clients, in their workforce. 

The rhetorical lip-service is being replaced with genuine strategies for the inclusion of under-represented sections of the profession.  City AM reports that the Law Society's Diversity & Inclusion Charter, which promotes best practices in recruitment, retention, and career progression at law firms, had, in 2017, signatories that amounted to almost a third of the legal profession.  This is viewed as a significant change and a far cry from the men-only atmosphere that prevailed for so many years.  

The broader prospective that diversity brings, which is more reflective of the client base, inevitably will have a positive effect on the potential clients who will, in turn, have greater confidence in placing their legal matters with a firm whose diversity suggests that there is likely to  be a greater understanding and empathy when dealing with their matter.  Law firms that publicly commit to diversity and inclusion will also attract better talent.  The firms that support the development of women's group and supportive affinity groups based on gender, sexual orientation and ethnic origin as well as the inclusion of individuals from underprivileged backgrounds are perceived as far better placed to address a multitude of matter involving sensitive issues relating in particular to one group or another as they will have considerably better understanding of how the potential solutions will impact within their clients' environment.

Giambrone's diversity stems from the fact that merit is the only criteria applied in recruitment and there is no discriminatory thinking aimed at individuals who do not conform to the perceived norm; therefore the Giambrone workforce is comprised of individuals of different nationalities, races, cultures, sexual orientations, genders, religions, abilities and ages.  The lawyers and staff at Giambrone can draw on personal experience in a wide range of situations and can provide empathy and understanding for the clients which may not be easily matched in other law firms. 

Any business adopting an inclusive attitude is likely to benefit from a greater level of staff retention and being more reflective of clients will almost certainly result in attracting more clients; a broader perspective will produce better decisions and generate a reputation that will give the firm a competitive advantage over their rivals. Law firms must keep a close eye on the perceptions and attitudes of their client base and ensure that they are truly able to match their expectations in all aspects of the client engagement.  The Mansfield rule, pioneered in the US, obliges those firms that have signed up to ensure that 30 per cent of the candidates selected for leadership must be from minority groups and women.  This very public demonstration of diversity shows potential clients a level of commitment that they cannot renounce.

If such a system is adopted in England and Wales it is to be hoped that it will be inclusive and not like the new gender pay gap rules, applying to firms with over 250 employees, which provide for publication of mean and median gender gap figures to be published relating to all staff except the partners of professional firms.

Failing to be inclusive means that when professional and commercial firms miss the knock-on effect of access to minority groups they may be missing out on significantly lucrative markets:  The pink pound in the UK is estimated to be worth £6 billion and $790 billion in the US, the British grey pound is worth £320 billion and the one billion disabled people globally have a disposable income of $8 trillion; fairly compelling reasons to look more closely at diversity and inclusion.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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