Traditionally, how the general public view those who work in the legal sector has been extremely narrow. In fact, in new research by Legal Cheek, when 2,000 people were asked ‘What does a lawyer look like?’, nearly half said they pictured them to white, and a quarter expect them to be male. More worryingly, only 12 per cent said they would be black or ethnic minority, and even less (6 per cent) expected them to be from a working-class background.
So, what does this say about the profession as a whole? Well, first and foremostly it shows that the industry hasn’t worked hard enough to encourage and actively diversify its talent pool. Currently it stands that the profession is made up of 21 per cent Black and Ethnic Minority individuals, and only 3 per cent of people with a disability. Poor statistics overall.
The benefits of a diverse workforce have been widely reported over the past few years, ranging from increased creativity and problem solving, better decision making and positive effects on profitability, to name just a few.
So, what can law firms do to up their game when it comes to diversity and inclusion?
Implement a Diversity and Inclusion officer or team
By having a specific person, or people, who looks after Diversity and Inclusion efforts, not only are you placing a gravitas on the importance of making a change within the team, but you are ensuring there is a driving force behind the campaign who can ensure it doesn’t fall to the wayside.
From implementing specific policies to reassessing hiring practices, creating more open discussions around Diversity and Inclusion to leveraging the positives of a diverse workforce, Diversity and Inclusion officers are the best first step towards culture change.
Consider a broader recruitment demographic
As many law firms look to implement a more flexible business model, either fully remote or a hybrid working model, this allows business leaders to be a lot broader with their recruitment efforts. In the ‘new normal’, use a wider potential hiring demographic to tap into diverse talent pools that perhaps weren’t possible to reach pre-pandemic.
Introduce flexible working options
The legal industry is traditionally very linear, running by the usual 9-5 model. However, this way of working can exclude a large population of potential talent, from individuals in caring roles to those who need flexibility around medical appointments. To combat this exclusion, legal firms should consider implementing more flexibility and agility around working hours. This could be introducing schemes such as flexi time or more availability of part-time roles.
Establish other routes into the industry where possible
Not everyone can take the conventional route of university after secondary education in order to enter industries such as law. Therefore, in order to attract a diverse candidate pipeline, offering more equal and accessible routes is crucial. For example, legal apprenticeships or trailblazer schemes, work experience or an increased number of paralegal roles.
Ensure accessibility for all employees
Accessibility in the workplace comes in a vast range of forms, and each need to be considered if you are truly going to ensure equal and inclusive opportunities for all. From disabled access such as ramps, lifts and disabled toilets, to using the best typefaces, backgrounds and colours on learning and everyday work resources for those who are neurodivergent. Options for braille devices for those with sight loss, to giving all staff training on how to communicate with someone who may have hearing loss.
Now more than ever, the legal industry needs to work hard to eradicate the damaging stereotypes it has created and begin to make strides towards inclusive change for the better.