A simple but effective step towards diversity in the legal profession
A recent Thomson Reuters study (2018 State of Corporate Law Departments) of more than 1,000 reviews of law firm performance revealed that male and female lead partners perform equally well. A mixed-gender legal team, however, performs significantly better than a single-gender legal team. Acritas and Thomson Reuters recommend that 1 in 3 matters be allocated to a female lead to encourage law firm diversity at the senior levels and accelerate the growth of female equity partners. The recommendation was a metric to track proportion of matters awarded by gender and in addition, all matters requiring a team should have both genders represented.
The report showed that seventy-nine percent of the senior U.S. in-house counsel that Acritas interviewed in 2017 were male. Male in-house counsel are less likely to select female external lawyers than their female counterparts as leads on their matters, which means the majority of power in law firms continues to lie with men. The recommendation was if in-house buyers, especially men, could consciously increase the number of female lead partners they select, the change in the balance of power would accelerate.
Even though, I stopped practicing law 20 years ago, I can still, like every good lawyer, put forward the arguments and practical difficulties with implementing this simple but effective strategy. Let’s not focus on those arguments, they easily become a distraction and keep us off track.
The Simple Step: Select a mixed gender and diverse team
If we know that a mixed gender legal team performs significantly better than a single gender legal team and took steps each time a team is assembled to make a conscious decision to have a mixed gender team, we would all be that much closer to achieving equality in the profession. The application of this rule can easily be applied more broadly to diverse groups and not restricted to gender only.
I would also be remiss not to give a shout out to the Legal Leaders for Diversity. On May 11, 2011, 31 highly influential and prominent Canadian General Counsel came together and signed a statement of support for creating an inclusive legal profession in Canada and formed Legal Leaders for Diversity. The legal profession sat up and took note. It took that influential and powerful collective client voice to cause the profession, not only to listen at that time, but to become aware that it would be constantly held to account. Its time for each one of us to hold ourselves and each other to account!
– Dal Bhathal, Managing Partner