I recently sat on the panel hosted by the Queensland Law Society (QLS) and the Asian Australian Lawyers Association (AALA) to discuss diversity in the legal profession. It was a great night and I thought it worth putting to paper (electronically anyway!) some of the discussion we had, particularly if you are from a diverse background looking to find a law firm or business that will best support you.
The business case for diversity
Diversity in all of its guises (including ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic background, education (private or otherwise), family situation, able/disabled, LGBTI) is something that we are seeing increasingly discussed by law firms. More than just discussing it (which is a good start) law firms and businesses see a diverse range of benefits from having a more diverse workforce including improvements to productivity, staff satisfaction, attraction and retention levels. Diversity also has a direct impact on profits for many law firms given it is something increasingly required by clients. In fact, some firms we work with have told us that they have lost work or have not been appointed to a panel because of the lack of diversity amongst their ranks.
What are firms doing?
To this end, diversity is becoming more than a buzzword for law firms. Firms are beginning to better represent the diversity that exists in the Australian population. Those firms that are doing it well are driving policy and initiatives in diversity and inclusion that permeates the entire firm from the top down. It is common place to read in the media about increases in female partner numbers, work from home and part time arrangements and LGBTI support around inclusiveness in many law firms. These firms also have regular reporting of their progress with continual improvement processes in place.
Importantly there is still more going on behind the scenes that our clients are telling us about. Whether it be unconscious bias and other training for both those involved in recruitment and also in the context of staff management training, dedicated “diversity staff” (Diversity Partner, Diversity Manager within HR), masking names, schools and other information from graduate CVs or mentor programmes designed to support and encourage diversity and to achieve the best promotional outcomes for a diverse workforce.
Finding a firm that promotes diversity and what to do when you find it
While the legal industry is known as being traditional and slow to change there are firms that are quite advanced in promoting a culture that supports diversity. So, if you are looking for a firm that is going to support you and allow you to bring your authentic self to work, where your career can be supported and thrive, there are a few things to look out for.
Finding the right firm
Do your research. Look at firm websites, social media and overall brand messaging which can tell you a lot. Additionally, are the firm’s policies available online or have their policies been discussed in any online media? Look at the makeup of the partnership but also the Senior Associates coming through to assess how diverse the firm already is. If a firm has deal sheets and/or details experience under practice areas or Partner profiles have a careful look at this information. It may outline client mix or deal flow that shows a certain client base that you may have relevant language skills, cultural skills or other relevant background to.
If you have excellent grades and experience and are one of the top graduates then firms want you and so make the above due diligence a part of your assessment of graduate roles. If on the other hand you do not have the pick of the firms as a graduate, do not despair. You might not start in the perfect firm but once you have 2 years or more post admission experience in a firm, you will be a highly sought after asset to many firms. This is a great time to reassess the market and find the right firm. If you are unsure talk to an experienced legal recruiter as they will have access to a lot of this information from their clients and can assist in finding that right fit.
Once you have found the right firm:
Take a positive mindset to work
I am a firm believer that a positive mindset is critical to a successful career and so when it comes to diversity be proud of who you are but tolerant of others diverse thoughts. As outlined above, diversity is important to a law firms’ success so use your diverse background to your advantage to elevate your candidacy for a role. Promote yourself and your unique background whether that be ethnicity, language skills, cultural understanding, involvement in certain interest groups, particular background or life experience. Clients are engaging with you as a human as much as a legal professional and shared experience can deepen client connection and allow you to relate to a client in a way your colleagues (and competitors) may not be able to.
Find a mentor
If your firm has a mentoring program this can be invaluable to your professional development. However, not every firm will have a mentoring program and so if yours doesn’t but it otherwise is the right place for you then seek out a mentor and advocate within the firm. This is important for all lawyers and will help you develop the confidence to be your authentic self. It may also help you to work on specific aspects of your career that are unique to your diverse background.
What networking can you do so that your unique self becomes something that is a competitive advantage for your firm. What contacts do you have that may be able to be fostered as future clients of the firm?
If you are thinking you are not in the right firm for you, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. We are happy to assist you to determine which firms to target and hopefully help you make a key move in your career that will allow you to bring your authentic self to work.