Failure to engage on diversity “should feature in performance reviews”

Ali: Wealth of knowledge continues to grow

Failure by lawyers to engage on diversity issues should be “taken into account” and have “consequences” in performance reviews, a report has recommended.

It found that lawyers at large firms from ethnic minority backgrounds stayed on average 18 months less than their White counterparts.

Researchers from London law firm diversity network NOTICED – made up of 28 leading City, US and national law firms – said the 2024 Best Practices Report was a follow-up to a similar report published in 2019 and based on roundtable discussions held by member firms.

They recommended that responsibility and accountability for racial diversity be embedded “at all levels” by law firms.

“Every partner, senior associate and supervisor should be considered responsible for contributing to a firm’s racial diversity-related targets and commitments.

“This can be encouraged by making time spent on diversity and inclusion-related initiatives chargeable and by ensuring that failure to engage on these issues is taken into account, and has some consequences, when it comes to performance reviews.

“This wider engagement and accountability, from all those involved in managing more junior employees, is needed to ensure that efforts in relation to racial diversity are consistent across the firm.”

Response rates to gather diversity data had “much improved” since 2019, with “most member firms reporting high levels of disclosure on ethnicity-related questions”, compared to lower levels on gender and sexual orientation.

The consensus amongst member firms was that “the quantity and quality of data available in relation to junior employees continues to be better when compared with more senior employees”.

This was considered to be a “direct result” of a recent drive to gather data at the point of entry.

“Further, this discrepancy is noted to be particularly problematic, given that the challenge in relation to retention of those from ethnic minority backgrounds is more pronounced in relation to partners and employees at a more senior level.”

Researchers said it should become “standard practice” for law firms to publish diversity statistics every year.

While most member firms were recruiting “from a much wider talent pool” than in 2019 at the trainee/newly qualified level, they were “still struggling” with lateral recruits, a challenge which was “most pronounced in relation to hiring laterals from a Black or South Asian background”.

This could be because lateral recruitment was done on a departmental basis, making it “more difficult to ensure consistency” than in graduate recruitment, which was done centrally.

Retention of lawyers from ethnic minority backgrounds “continued to be an issue” for member firms, with lawyers staying on average 18 months less than their White counterparts, an issue “particularly pronounced” for solicitors with two to three years of post-qualification experience.

Member firms reported that among the problems were a lack of “sponsorship or championship”, with ethnic minority lawyers lacking the “opportunities to engage with clients, whether through high-profile transactions or in social settings, in the same way as their White counterparts”.

Another was “a dearth of visible role models from ethnic minority backgrounds in senior positions” and “a lack of wider support”.

Most member firms had adopted “aspirational targets” in relation to the recruitment and progression of ethnic minority employees to leadership roles.

“However, there remains a significant majority of firms in the City which have not adopted such targets.”

Researchers recommended that law firms implement “earlier interventions” to nurture talent through sponsorship, mentorship and coaching.

Faria Ali, chair of NOTICED and author of the report, said that in the last five years the network had remained “at the core of efforts to bring together the legal sector, to connect and collaborate, and to learn from the successes and challenges of peer firms”.

Ms Ali, a senior associate at Herbert Smith, added: “As we continue to welcome additional firms to the network, the wealth of knowledge and experience that all member firms can draw from only continues to grow.” US firm Quinn Emmanuel has become the latest to join.

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