New Zealand Law Society - In-house counsel tell law firms to become more diverse

In-house counsel tell law firms to become more diverse

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Over 170 General Counsels and Chief Legal Officers have sent an open letter to law firm partners, telling them they are expected to reflect the diversity of the legal community and the companies and customers they serve.

The letter is critical of law firms which do not reflect the demographics of their society and says the signatory counsel will commit their spend to those firms which celebrate diversity and inclusion.

The letter applauds those firms which have worked hard to hire, retain, and promote to partnership outstanding and highly accomplished lawyers who are diverse in race, colour, age, gender, gender orientatino, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, and without regard to disabilities.

"You and your firms have shown leadership by putting into place practices, policies, and priorities to ensure that a broad spectrum of attorneys are attracted to your firms, have a chance to demonstrate their talents, are able to successfully navigate both their professional and personal lives, and are rewarded for their exemplary performance," it says.

"We believe that a diverse workplace is evidence that you have created an environment where all employees feel they belong and are accepted. We appreciate and acknowledge that effort and investment."

"Some remain largely male and largely white"

However, the letter says the writers are disappointed to see that many law firms continue to promote partner classes that in no way reflect the demographic composition of entering associate classes.

"Partnership classes remain largely male and largely white," it says.

"We have no doubt that these lawyers worked hard to earn partnership and deserve the success they have obtained at your firms. We also know that there are women, people of colour, and members of the LGTBQIA community and others who are no doubt equally deserving, but are not equally rewarded.

"We are left to wonder if you and your partners value diversity enough to put into place programmes to develop, promote, and retain talented and diverse attorneys."

The counsel says it is not enough for firms to commit to diversity during the recruiting process or to hire a diversity and inclusion officer and expect that person can effect change without the full commitment of each partner of the firm.

"Instead the reality is that you must consciously and personally invest in diversity and inclusion and interview, hire, mentor, support, sponsor, and promote talented attorneys who don't always look like you or share your background."

Counsel to prefer firms celebrating diversity

"We, as a group, will direct our substantial outside counsel spend to those law firms that manifest results with respect to diversity and inclusion, in addition to providing the highest degree of quality representation," the letter concludes.

"We sincerely hope that you and your firm will be among those that demonstrate this commitment."

The general counsel say they represent public and private companies, start-ups and non-profit organisations. Collectively, they say, their companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars annually on legal services.

The open letter has been posted on a general counsel group page on LinkedIn and many signatories say they will also email copies to the firms they work with and request that they share it with the partners.