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Quickfire Q&A: implementing a D&I strategy at a global law firm

Diversity and inclusion (D&I) has been propelled up the agenda in the workplace. In recent years, the case for greater D&I has been rapidly evolving; generating more awareness than ever before—and the legal profession is responding.

Regardless of size, many law firms across the UK have stepped up their D&I efforts in a bid to recognise and promote D&I in the workplace—striving to support and nurture staff irrespective of identity or background—for ultimately better business outcomes. While there is much progress to be made, some firms are finally beginning to address D&I, some are well on the journey, while many have robust D&I strategies embedded.

However, the legal market is continually changing. Clients are demanding more for less, as well as greater efficiency, and enhanced results – meanwhile, external factors including Brexit, for example, will be a concern for many.

Therefore, while the awareness around the D&I agenda is encouraging, getting it firmly on the radar of senior leadership and securing buy-in can be an onerous task – particularly at a large Magic Circle firm. Daniel Danso, Global Diversity Manager at Linklaters, has done just that. In a quickfire Q&A with Thomson Reuters’ Legal Insights UK & Ireland, Danso talks about raising the D&I profile at a global firm.

Tell us about the role of a D&I manager at a global law firm.

The role will vary from firm to firm depending where they are in the D&I journey. In the early days at Linklaters, my role was focussed around doing quite a lot of soul searching to get the business to understand who and what it wanted to be. That ground-work is incredibly important as without it, you can’t put a coherent strategy in place or even attempt to move the needle. Now, we’re at a place where my role is  a strategic lead, working with a global team to find solutions for a range of D&I challenges and helping our people, at all levels, understand how they can make a difference.

Do you feel there is now an increased awareness around D&I within the legal industry?

Absolutely. Over the last five or so years, D&I has gone from being just a HR-led issue to being driven by the Board. Since McKinsey and other businesses published their research showing the link between diversity and profitability, it has caused senior management at a number of firms to sit up and take more notice. For some firms, D&I was already being addressed, but for others, the link to financial performance helped to push the topic further up the agenda. It’s also important to stress that linking D&I to financial performance because of the innovation that recouping the benefits of a diverse workforce gives you is but one of the business cases needed to influence a variety of people in business.

What are the challenges of implementing a D&I strategy at a global law firm?

The very fact we are a global law firm presents its own challenges. Firstly, the partnership model means that there isn’t one decision maker. You need to engage and get buy-in from, in our case, more than 450 owners of the business. Secondly, it’s not a case of just coming up with a D&I strategy and applying it wholesale across the firm. For each of the 21 countries we operate in, each has its own culture, laws and attitudes—and that affects what D&I looks like in that particular office. So, we come up with a global strategy and an overarching goal, but it has to have local relevance. It’s important to work with the management teams in each office to understand their issues and challenges and then work together to identify what we can do to make us a better firm.

Once implemented, how do you ensure that key stakeholders buy into the initiative and continue to champion it?

Continuing to champion the initiatives and the inclusive culture is ongoing, this isn’t one day of training and we’re done. Once senior leaders and key stakeholders understand the strategy, where they fit into it and where they can make a difference, you see that they start to embody the goals and find their own way to encourage conversations. For example, we have a reverse mentoring scheme for our Partnership Board, it not only sends a strong message from the top but it helps to challenge their own thinking and learn new ways of doing things every day.

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