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01 March 2019 at 14:55 BST

Some law firm diversity initiatives are counter-productive

Project investigating the effectiveness of diversity initiatives used by law firms reveals mixed results, suggest some may be counter-productive.

Some law firms are using diversity initiatives to help propel women up the career ladder that are counter-productive, according a joint venture project between Thomson Reuters Transforming Women’s Leadership in Law (TWLL) and legal research platform Acritas.

Negative impacts

The preliminary research results found that the average proportion of trainees and junior associates that are female is just over 60 percent. Female senior associates make up 58 percent of the total on average, but the proportion of female new partners is just over half this, and women make up just over 20 percent of the overall equity partner pool. Rates vary considerably by firm. Preliminary results, collected by cross-correlating diversity initiatives with female retention rates to understand which initiatives are working, highlights certain initiatives have negative impacts. Acritas chief executive Lisa Hart Shepherd, said ‘the project is about giving leadership and the diversity heads in law firms, and general counsel, some evidence to say, 'these are the things you have to have in place to enable diversity'. We want to help the market as a whole to identify something it can truly embrace to encourage diversity.’ A key example cited is women-only groups, which Ms Hart Shepherd suggests could be detrimental for a number of reasons, since they can alienate men and leave people feeling excluded from the diversity drive.

Positive impacts

Three initiatives cited with as having a positive impact include making it mandatory to have female representation on pitching teams, publicly declaring gender targets, and, having a quota for the number of female candidates on partnership promotion rounds. The data so far has been collected from 30 law firms, including three of the five magic circle firms, most of the 'silver circle' firms, and some European firms. The project is now calling for more to take part, especially top 100 firms, during the coming weeks.


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