Why every law firm needs to embrace diversity
- April 24, 2017
Hardly a day seems to go by within the legal profession without some piece of publicity about, or new initiative around, workforce diversity. But while almost everyone would agree that this trend is a good thing and that the profession should offer equal opportunity to all whatever their gender, social background, ethnicity, etc, how many of us really understand that there is also a compelling business case shoring up altruistic motives?
The reason why many of the very largest firms have been devoting so much time, effort and cash to building more diverse workforces is not because they have experienced some unexpected attack of niceness, but because they grasped some while ago that this makes good business sense.
The business case for diversity
In the days when the great majority of customers for legal services were white, middle class males, who had attended similar schools and universities it may have been sensible if many law firm partners looked exactly the same. But the world has changed. And when partners at major firms found themselves in meetings with potential clients from every corner of the globe and from backgrounds as far away from the English private school system as it’s possible to get, they quickly got the message that the cosy, old arrangements of the past might no longer be fit for purpose.
However the business principles behind diversity are not simply the province of the ‘Magic Circle’ and its peers. Firstly, no organisation can genuinely understand and respond to what motivates its customer base unless it mirrors it, at least to some extent. Secondly, diversity is often the source of new and innovativeideas and approaches – something that every firm needs to embrace in this age where traditional ways of operating can be rendered obsolete virtually overnight. And finally, ignoring the potential of diversity and simply recruiting the same people from the same places you always have is transparently self-defeating. The best talent is the best talent, no matter what it looks or sounds like or where it happened to be educated.
Achieving workforce diversity and accessing the commercial benefits that it can bring does not have to be the daunting challenge it is often portrayed as. An open mind and a willingness to look beyond the obvious to what an individual can really offer can achieve an awful lot without any investment in glossy, formal programmes or initiatives. And once the diversity gets started its momentum can end up doing your job for you. As the barrister and diversity campaigner, Miranda Brawn puts it, the key is for individuals from what might be regarded as disadvantaged groups to see role models across the profession in firms of all sizes. Because if they can see people like themselves in senior positions, the brightest and best will do everything they need to do to emulate them. And that can only be good for talented lawyers and the firms that will gain commercial advantage by hiring and developing them.