Stonewall recently announced its 2019 Workplace Equality Index (’WEI’). The WEI ranked 16 law firms, all of whom are large national/international practices, in the top 100 employers’ list, which by any standard is a fantastic achievement for the legal sector and really demonstrates the sector’s commitment to LGBT+ diversity and inclusion (D&I).
Notwithstanding the great developments in the legal sector, is enough being done to help support smaller practices or develop initiatives outside the City and into the regions?
Obviously, the City has the necessary resources, especially in terms of financial support, and numbers of people to implement D&I initiatives. You’ll be hard pushed to find a large law firm that doesn’t have a dedicated D&I manager spearheading its diversity regime. This makes it easier for City firms to support Pride events, purchase comprehensive LGBT+ training packages, create LGBT+ specific spaces on their intra-net/website pages etc. In addition, the resources available to City firms allow them to more easily set up staff networks, which enjoy ample employee engagement in order to sustain the D&I activities. Smaller law firms on the other hand often struggle to replicate these initiatives on a scale to fit their practice.
So, what can be done?
Firstly, no matter how small your practice is or where you are located you are free to join the Law Society’s LGBT+ lawyers division in order to utilise the division’s resources and connect with other likeminded individuals.
Setting up an LGBT+ network in a two partner regional practice faces obvious practical problems. If internal networks aren’t practical for your organisation then you should branch out and connect with other local firms. Collectively a group of smaller local law firms can together create the strength in numbers that City firms enjoy to help get diversity initiatives off the group in their local area. The Law Society has implemented regional diversity and inclusion forums which regional and smaller firms can utilise as a platform to springboard inter-firm D&I initiatives.
Together with the SRA and Stonewall, the Law Society is piloting a mentoring scheme whereby small and medium firms can learn from larger City firms. Sharing best practice initiatives is a great way for City firms to give back to a wider range of communities and to provide smaller firms with the resources and D&I know-how. The issues faced and lessons learned through this pilot will feed into general guidance to be issued.
Whilst London Pride may have an impressive register of law firm attendees, regional prides are not far behind in this regard. The increase in smaller regional Prides affords a wide variety of law firms the opportunity to join in the Pride movement. This has not gone unnoticed by the Law Society’s LGBT+ lawyers division who will be supporting a range of regional Prides this summer, and also publicising law firms’ involvement in other Prides.
In short, whilst smaller and regional firms may not have the resources City firms enjoy, this should not be a deterrent to engaging in LGBT+ initiatives as they should consider joining up with other law firms or supporting the Law Society’s LGBT+ lawyers division range of initiatives. Of course, whether all the resources the City firms have - and the rankings they achieve - mean that life on the ground for LGBT+ people is perfect, is a whole other question.
If you have any questions regarding the Law Society’s LGBT+ lawyers division then please contact the division on firstname.lastname@example.org
Paul Maddock is a Law Society LGBT+ Lawyers Division Committee member