Diversity is important. Malcolm is from Lancashire, while Derek hails from Yorkshire.
A law firm's diversity policy is only as good as the manner in which it is implemented, according to respondents to the RollOnFriday In-house Lawyer Survey.
For some in-house lawyers, evidence of diversity was "crucial" when it came to instructing firms. "We're a diverse business, if our law firms aren't diverse, they don't get it", said one. Firms "have perpetuated elitism, racial and gender bias", argued a GC in the communications sector. "It needs to change".
Diverse staff "brings diversity of approach, which is important", agreed another in-house lawyer. "Unfortunately, a lot of the major firms like white old guys as partners, and they throw a few token different-looking folk in to show (to pretend) they're doing something."
Others agreed that the policy on the tin may not reflect the way the firm is actually run. "I've never yet found any correlation between what a diversity policy says and how a firm treats its staff and others", said a GC. Like-minded respondents highlighted the importance of taking diversity in the round, and said the firm's overall culture was more important. "I'm far more interested in how they behave as a firm than how many boxes they tick," said a GC in real estate. "People are far more complicated than a tick in an ethnic box anyway."
For others, diversity played a role, but quality if advice was paramount. "Diversity can only be a factor if the quality of legal advice/service is comparable," said one in-house lawyer, who suggested that "meritocracy in recruitment and promotion is arguably more important".
Others were even more hardnosed about what they wanted out of a firm: "I don't really care how 'diverse' a firm is as long as they have good people who provide the right advice and stay within budget," said an in-house lawyer in financial services.
A number of respondents commented that while they valued diversity, in reality it had little bearing on instructions. "I'd like it to be more important, but frankly I think law firms need to improve some more of the basic stuff around their operating models", said an in-house lawyer. "Those which do that first are more likely to win my business than those which have good D&I policies, but which fumble the day job."
A senior in-house lawyer said that while they thought diversity did "form part of 'panel relationship' discussions" they would never "enquire about a diversity policy when instructing" a firm. They also said that for firms "in a small market", such as the Channel Islands, while "diversity ambitions are laudable" they are not "always so easy to deliver with the pool of candidates available for roles, and personally I am therefore more forgiving than I would be in another market."
A TMT in-house lawyer commented: "I'm from a low income, ethnic minority background myself, I definitely think law firms should lift up people who don't have a 'posh' upbringing and don't have much access to legal work experience. There are initiatives like the Aspiring Solicitors Foundation that are great." But they added: "There is a danger though of creating diversity fatigue in people. I'm not a huge fan of firms that come across as sanctimonious and whose client L&D offering is full of wacky social justice stuff."
The survey is still open, so the final findings could swing towards respondents considering diversity to be an important consideration. If you're in-house, fill in the fields in the survey below.
And if you're a firm proud of its diversity credentials, remember to promote them in a suitable way.