Having worked in a small in-house legal team, a local firm, a large international legal business and most recently as part of the in-house team at a multinational mass media and entertainment conglomerate, I can safely say the legal sector is not very diverse – at least not where I have worked.
Now that’s an unfair blanket statement in many ways and you may have a completely different experience. But statistically it has been shown to be true, time and time again. Generally, most of the diversity will be firmly placed within the entry level positions. You’ll have admin staff, PAs and paralegals from a range of backgrounds, but as you work with more senior solicitors you’ll find that the diversity pool shrinks considerably.
ARE WE REALLY DIVERSE?
Diversity is a misnomer as it encapsulates far too many things to ever address the full range of issues within companies and their hiring practices. Have I worked with female solicitors? Yes. Have I worked with solicitors who are people of colour? Yes. Have I worked with disabled solicitors? I’m not sure as some disabilities are invisible, especially when considering mental health concerns (although, to be honest, the legal sector is slacking in terms of both mental health awareness and support, so unfortunately I wouldn’t be surprised if I hadn’t ever worked with disabled lawyers). So why do I think the legal sector lacks diversity, despite having worked with a range of diverse lawyers? That’s because most solicitors I have come across come from a middle-class background and most have been cis white men.
While at Warner Bros, I worked for the most diverse legal team I had ever worked for. However, the trainee solicitors and other team members were not as diverse. As you study the corporate hierarchy of any company or corporation diversity usually decreases the higher you go, the subconscious nature of biases often distorts the perception of those in the position of management or hiring and is more noticeable by those negatively impacted by such biases. Warner Bros. being an American corporation became much more “aware” of racial inequality; pulling films such as Gone with the Wind, providing bias training for staff, publishing a diversity report that breaks down the ethnicities of the staff in their American headquarters and asking me for honest feedback on potential biases within the hiring process for interns, however these are merely performative moves that will likely end up being just as effective as removing the word “master” from master bedroom on house listings.
When I told my supervisor I was unsure about whether I wanted to continue with law as I felt like there were too many hurdles for me to overcome, he wasn’t surprised and said he understood why I felt that way, becoming more aware of the hurdles that marginalised people face in attempting to establish a career in law.
DIVERSITY SHOULD BE EMBRACED
Diversity should not be something you aim for but should come naturally. The benefits are simple: having a group of lawyers with the same education and background may give you a competence workforce but they’ll all have the same skills. How could they then bring something unique to the table? If you have a team of 11 Ronaldos, that may be great in the short term but will not guarantee a win in every game of football. Every team, every company, needs a range of players with different ideas and skills. The only way to achieve that is through embracing diversity.