I agree with data-gathering efforts designed to boost inclusion in the law. But do they work for small firms?
I have just done my annual email to staff about diversity and circulated the questionnaire. According to the results so far received, 100% of the staff are the same age, from the same social and educational background and, for all I know, have the same shirt size. Which means only two people responded.
I share the profession’s commitment to diversity and inclusion and agree the success of any legal practice is based on its ability to understand and meet the needs of its clients. I believe in inclusivity – its composition should reflect the diversity of our society. I want to be a good employer, recruiting on merit and offering training and development opportunities to all employees regardless of background.
Plus, I suspect that everyone in the firm not only signs up to the profession’s standards but agrees with them. We are probably more diverse than other firms. And I suspect the failure to complete the form is more to do with lack of time rather than anything else.
But I find it deeply embarrassing to ask the questions which are in the questionnaire. In a small firm it is difficult to keep the contents confidential. You may only have one trainee, one partner, and one bookkeeper so it is obvious whose reply is whose.
A friend of mine worked for a local council answering the telephone when the public phoned to report a problem or make an enquiry. The friend always had to ask the caller’s sexuality. Yes, it is important that all parts of community can access local services and presumably someone has the job of making sure the ‘appropriate’ proportion of people from different backgrounds telephone to report a problem. But have things gone too far? If someone phones up to report a streetlight is not working, why are they asked if they are gay or straight?
I can see benefits of gathering information about makeup of the profession, and fully support the moves to encourage entrants into the law from disadvantaged backgrounds. The profession needs to reflect society. However, in a small firm the proportions are fairly meaningless.
David Pickup is a partner at Aylesbury-based Pickup & Scott