Leading women lawyers: Expectations, experiences and achievements by Cogence Search

Click here see the interview with Tamara Box, managing partner for Europe and Middle East at Reed Smith in the first part of Cogence Search's Leading women lawyers series.

Bringing in the changes

An increase in diversity in UK law firms is happening, albeit slowly. Part of the reason for this lethargy may be societal. For many millennials, the issue of inequality is simply not on their radar – and this notion stays with them until inevitably, the question of family arises. 

Freelance diversity consultant Alison states, “I work with loads of young people who think I'm this crazy hairy-legged feminist. Then they experience one too many male-dominated meetings, or get excluded from a new project for which they know they have an appropriate skill set, or mention ‘family’ and suddenly see that the battle for equality is far from over!”

Marie, a diversity specialist for a renowned motor company notes, “My experience is that the 'perception' of discrimination is different for those in their 20s. I am currently part of an IT team focussing on women and we are re-evaluating our purpose as it's clear that we need to understand better what women 'today' are finding to be important aspects of their experience; we shouldn’t just be activists on the well-trodden paths of previous problems of inequality.”

Just what, then, does the next generation want? Our interviews with leading women lawyers, surveys such as “The Future of Law”and our discussion groups all agree: agile/flexible working without losing career prospects; career progression; support; recognition; and eradication of bias.

Natasha Harrison, Managing Partner (London) of Boies Schiller & Flexner LLP is all for more flexibility. “Clients don’t care whether I am sitting in my office or sitting in my home office, or frankly, sitting in the car having dropped off my child at school….as long as I can concentrate and focus on them and I am accessible.”

Reed Smith’s new firm-wide agile working policy states, 'individuals will be able to take a more ad-hoc approach to varying their hours and/or location. The policy will provide a great way to balance the need to deliver excellent client service as part of an effective and collaborative team, and provide individuals with flexibility regarding how they work.'

Flexibility and agile working seem to be on the way. But what about career progression, especially after maternity leave? Tamara Box, Managing Partner for Europe and Middle East at Reed Smith stresses it is achievable, but it’s a two-way street to get there: if the firm trusts you to deliver, and you trust the firm to deliver, it will happen.

But bias will continue to exist unless firms make major advances in acknowledging its existence and making amends. Tamara Box is determined that eradicating bias starts with being vigilant, centres on developing role models and neutralising language, and is complete when diversity is the norm.

Diversity and inclusion

Thanks to a lot of good research and significant championing for change, the last three years have seen law firms ramp up support gender progression, social mobility, diversity and inclusion.

Natasha Harrison makes diversity a priority, “To me the most important thing in any team is diversity …It’s not just diversity in boys and girls, it’s diversity in personality and skillset. When I put together a team for a specific case I am very careful to choose a diverse team… different people, different skillsets, different backgrounds, because we look at the issues from unique perspectives and that has been very successful.”

 “We have to value difference,” says Tamara Box. “And to value difference, we have to allow it to exist.” She believes law firms now need to ensure that diversity is sustainable, and that can be achieved through access to role models and mentoring.

Fortunately, everyone seems to accept that diverse businesses perform better, and most firms are implementing programmes to ensure their fee earners have access to mentors and appropriate training to ensure they have every opportunity to succeed.

Leading Women Lawyers

Diversity, inclusion and progression is not the sole responsibility of law firms. The legal recruitment sector must also take a proactive role in ensuring sustainability.

Cogence Search’s 'Leading Women Lawyers' is a series of interviews with some of the UK’s leading female lawyers - the role models of the profession. These women have battled through the obstacles, of which there are many, and have succeeded. For them it hasn’t been because they are somehow extraordinary; they have made it by ensuring support from their firms and by ensuring their choices are championed by those around them.

The series starts with an interview with Natasha Harrison. Entitled “Lessons for my younger self”, Natasha gives a candid account of her career, the decisions she made and the pitfalls she negotiated on her journey to the top of her profession. Tamara Box follows, offering insight and advice on ‘Diversity, inclusion and progression’ within the context of her own career. Over the course of 2017 Cogence offers six further interviews with leading women who offer hope, inspiration and support.

Diversity and …sustainability?

If we are to create a sustainable attitude to equality, we in the legal recruitment sector must also do more to ensure diversity and inclusion agendas are adhered to behind the scenes.  

Unconscious bias has been hailed ‘the bane of the recruitment industry’, affecting both external and internal processes. It is impossible to submit a selection of candidates for a fee-earner role without bias – the very act of sifting through CVs and making that selection will be influenced by culture, environment, attitude, format, language, and even the mood of the selector. What can be done?

One solution is to utilise automated screening tools. A machine cannot be influenced by such factors. But, as a recent report from Jobsite suggests, trusting such tools to be precise in their selection appears to be a big issue for internal recruiters looking at niche roles; and then there is the issue of relying on the tool searching only static information from those who have applied for the role. A machine is not going to be able to assess those candidates for cultural fit. Or can it?

Codex Edge believe that they have developed the ultimate, intelligent screening tool that will not only deliver on diversity and inclusion agendas, but will also deliver on cultural fit. The Codex Edge maps every fee earner in the UK’s top 50, US and boutique firms and allows the user to create specific talent pools based on their very specific requirements. Its intelligence data is coded manually by experienced legal recruiters and is drawn from a range of legitimate sources. Direct sourcing teams can create relevant talent pools based on firm rank, practice area and specialisms and devoid of ethnicity, religion, disability or gender.

“The legal recruitment landscape is changing,” says Mark Husband, Managing Director. “Direct sourcing is becoming more popular. We need to work with this change rather than compete with it. We developed the Codex Edge initially for ourselves but quickly realised that law firms could benefit from its neutrality and efficiency and there was no reason why they couldn’t use it themselves.”

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