I was privileged to be asked to participate in Panels at Law Firm Marketing Summit and Spark 21 recently and, at both, had the opportunity to chat with Lisa Hart Shepherd whose ACRITAS legal sector research team have done some very thought provoking work about what makes for better interaction between the law firm and the law department. Their data shows that there is a significant positive improvement in scoring on most measures when the legal team servicing a law department is as diverse as the law department itself. This was particularly true on the measures that related to setting up and improving relationships and handling problems in relationships.
At the excellent Spark 21 conference, inspired and organised by Dana Denis-Smith, Lisa Webley commented that the female/male intake into law at graduate level has been at least 50% female since the 1980s but that "traditional law" has continually lost female lawyers in large numbers around the 6-7 year qualified mark.
Many of these lawyers have selected a career in the, now 24,000 strong, in-house legal community and in the wider legal services sector – Dana being one outstanding role model of this trend. And, because this has been going on in significant numbers since the last century, there are now a lot of very good and very senior female lawyers in key positions within the in-house legal community and wider legal services sector. When I am asked who are the people who are moving, shaping and innovating in that community, the majority of the people who immediately come to mind are now female.
Directionally this is good news – but there is still a long way to go both in respect of female progression and in respect of all other aspects of diversity and inclusion.
Research by Alexis Krivkovich of McKinsey in the US highlights the importance of good people and career management and development practices in an organisation to enable and encourage female lawyers to progress. As in-house legal teams have to use the development frameworks that apply to the company as a whole then, perhaps, it is these corporate wide development frameworks; in the companies that develop and operate them well – combined with the in-house lawyers themselves having diverse internal client departments to service - that are providing at least some of this enablement and encouragement?
So if the key influencers, decision makers and legal work commissioners within the in-house legal world are increasingly diverse in all senses. And being as diverse as your client makes a material difference to law firms' ability to build, maintain and deepen their client relationships. Then maybe, over time, this will provide a further impetus to law firms generally(and there are many firms that are already trying hard) to do the things which are necessary to reduce that 6-7 year attrition rate and to have the diversity at all levels within their own teams that can enable this to happen?
To read my full perspective on the Spark 21 conference click here.