How can law firms do more on diversity and inclusion and why they need to

There’s much more SME law firms can do around diversity and inclusion, says Marcin Durlak, managing partner at IMD Solicitors, even when they think there isn’t or they can’t. Here, he outlines where firms can make a good start.

Marcin Durlak, managing partner |IMD Solicitors|

Smaller law firms can sometimes find that their partners behave as if focusing on diversity and inclusivity (D&I) initiatives isn’t quite as important as perhaps it should be. Common excuses range from “we’re a small team,” to “there’s no more space to hire diverse employees,” as well as “we’re diverse enough.”

More often than not, however, there’s much more law firms can do to improve their D&I, even when they have limited resources, space and roles. According to figures from law firm Bolt Burdon Kemp, which surveyed diversity in the legal industry, there are serious deficiencies in the representation of lawyers who have a disability, are from an ethnic minority background or identify as LGBTQ+, or any combination of these identities, in today’s law firms.

A mistake many firms make is to pay lip service to the idea of D&I. Sharing positive social media posts and saying the profession should be more diverse is not the same as looking within and practising those initiatives. It’s a classic case of ‘talking the talk’ but not ‘walking the walk’. This can alienate your own employees, potential recruits and clients as well, especially if they know your firm is taking a hypocritical public posture.

And law firms are really losing because of these issues – whether that’s a case of missing out on talented lawyers, diverse sets of clients or a wider pool of suppliers – and to prove the point, a study by McKinsey found that businesses are much more profitable when they are diverse.

How can firms become more sensitive to the issues?

Here at IMD Solicitors, helping to connect diverse communities and help minorities thrive is very much at the core of our mission. For example, we advise clients in their own mother tongue, as well as English. Our team are all UK-qualified lawyers but were born in countries across Europe and they speak several different languages.

Our policy and our practice is to truly understand and respect the different cultures embraced by our international clients. We believe a multicultural client base can best be served by a multicultural team. So, what does it mean to be a multicultural firm? If you take Investopedia’s definition, it’s: “one that has a workforce that includes people from diverse backgrounds across all departments and which offers them equal opportunity for input and advancement within the company.”

When trying to create a more multicultural firm, it’s easy to go down the tick-box route, but law firms need to remember their approach must be people-centric. So, it’s worth considering some of the following suggestions when aiming to improve your D&I:

  1. Be honest, observe and listen – this is often the hardest part. If you recognise your company isn’t as diverse and inclusive as it could be, hold yourself accountable and commit to change – people will respect you more for it. Look into the skillsets and backgrounds of your employees if possible, then look into your recruitment and retention policies – do these facilitate or encourage bias? Hold regular anonymous surveys to get employee and client feedback and measure these over time as you start to introduce initiatives.
  2. Create and maintain a respectful and open culture – the values of the firm and the individuals that make it up, should include deeply ingrained beliefs around respect, tolerance and openness. Leaders have to set an example, then other senior members are more likely to follow and propogate those values on a daily basis with the firm and clients.
  3. Consider holding training sessions on bias and inclusive language. Make these workshops educational and open to discussion, so employees engage and understand why supporting D&I practices is important for them and the business.
  4. Lastly, make sure your complaints and disciplinary procedures are up to scratch and are being practised in line with the latest employment law guidance. Make it clear to employees that respect, tolerance and inclusion underpins the culture of your business and that allegations of discriminatory behaviour will be listened to and dealt with.

There’s much more small law firms can do to improve D&I and create an open, respectful culture within their organisation. Promoting the positives that lie at the heart of the firm and ensuring all employees and partners live it and breathe it is the best way to achieve this.

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