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From the Law Society

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Leadership and diversity

There is a clear business case for diversity in leadership, whether that is at the executive level, in the boardroom or, closer to home, in the professions. Research indicates that it provides tangible and measurable benefits. (See for instance: Women Matter: Gender Diversity, a corporate performance driver, McKinsey & Company (2010) London.)

The legal profession has traditionally been a conservative profession but, if it wants to attract and retain the brightest and the best, it must embrace diversity and ensure that its leadership reflects that diversity.

In general terms, the legal profession is more diverse than ever before. This is true in terms of gender and ethnicity, and also in terms of the careers that lawyers choose. Following the standard track: out of law school and onto a career path that involved employment in a private law firm, partnership and possibly judicial appointment, or similar, is no longer the favoured path for many lawyers. Indeed, many start out on that path but later decide to try other opportunities open to those within our profession. Today, a “job for life” is unusual and most of us will have many parts to our careers.

My own path has been varied. Following graduation, I spent close to nine years at a big private law firm. I then moved in-house with a Crown entity, first in the role of Chief Legal Advisor, moving later into an expanded role, retaining responsibility for the legal function but adding various other responsibilities into the mix. Throughout my legal career, I have also maintained an interest in academia, continuing to publish, lecture and, in 2013, graduating with a PhD. My role and my interests are diverse, and it is a privilege to bring those passions together on a day to day basis.

Earlier this year, I became President of the Law Society’s In-house Lawyers Section (recently rebranded from CLANZ to ILANZ). We, at ILANZ, are conscious that the number and proportion of in-house lawyers is growing. Of particular note is that, among in-house lawyers, women are in the majority at 60%, with many of us also in senior management or governance roles. As a section, we have a responsibility to ensure that all in-house lawyers are appropriately empowered to grow into the leadership opportunities that may present.

More generally, the Law Society as a whole, through its national presence, sections and branches, has an important role to play, both in leading the profession and in developing leaders within the profession. The Law Society provides information, opportunities for continuing professional development, professional support, and organises events to encourage collegiality. As a profession, we can learn from one another, supporting each other to reach our full potential, as lawyers and as leaders. Having a strong organised profession, and the resulting sense of professional community, is key in ensuring that this occurs.

As well as looking to develop leaders from within all parts of the profession, it is important to think about how we recognise leadership. One of the traditional ways of doing this has been through the appointment of senior barristers as Queen’s Counsel. This is a topic examined in more depth later in this issue of LawTalk. In-house lawyers, along with other parts of the profession, are not eligible for such appointment. It may be that this is appropriate, but perhaps it is time to question how we formally recognise the excellence, leadership and contribution shown by lawyers working in those other parts of our profession, whether that be by widening the eligibility criteria for Queen’s Counsel appointments, or via another alternative mechanism. It would certainly enable a wider and more diverse pool of talent to be recognised.

The Law Society does not have all the answers as to how best to translate the diversity we see in the profession into representation at every level of leadership. However, in my view, this is something that we need to be thinking and talking about. It seems to have become clear that these issues are unlikely to be addressed simply through the passage of time, but that deliberate and active steps are required. So, what is it that we, as a profession, need to do differently in order to achieve diversity in leadership? And, at the same time, do we need to reconsider how we recognise leadership within the profession?

One thing that I am confident does not need to change, though, is the passion and generosity shown by so many lawyers. On that note, I would like to pay tribute to and thank all of the hard working volunteers who contribute to our profession and to the wider community, including my colleagues on the Executive of ILANZ.

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