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30 July 2020

Allen & Overy sets new targets to help boost diversity

Magic Circle firm addresses the need for greater diversity with new targets and a renewed approach

By Ben Rigby

Allen & Overy wants to improve the diversity of its London office Shutterstock

Allen & Overy is seeking to achieve greater diversity in its London office by aiming to have 15% of its partnership from an ethnic minority by 2025.

The firm has also set a target of having at least a quarter of its lawyers and support staff recruited from diverse backgrounds by the same date, and committed to recruiting 35% of its trainees from ethnic minorities, with a specific commitment to ensure 10% of those trainees are black lawyers.

Ian Field, A&O’s diversity and inclusion partner, said: “We must all play our part in creating a truly inclusive workplace and for us that starts with accountability,” adding the firm recognised its own internal problems, and was committed to tackling them head on.

The firm also promised to equalise retention rates for trainee lawyers, with a view to retaining more black associates. In the same vein, A&O published a ‘stay gap’ analysis—which assesses average tenure at law firms—following research by diversity recruitment consultant Rare Recruitment that showed the tenure of ethnic minority lawyers was approximately 18-months shorter than their white counterparts. 

The gap is calculated by looking at differences in average tenure of employees who have left the firm in the last five years. In A&O’s case, that gap was seven months shorter for all ethnic minority lawyers than their white colleagues, but nearly two-and-a-half-years shorter for black lawyers compared to white ones.

This, said Field, presented “an uncomfortable truth,” both for the firm and the wider industry. He added that it gave law firms an objective way to improve, and measurably so in future. 

The firm also pledged a new strategy on recruitment and retention, which it said had been the subject of an extensive internal exercise in intra-office knowledge building.

A&O head of diversity and inclusion Jo Dooley said that such transparency enabled them to effectively address such issues, and that data monitoring would help it identify the challenges that the firm’s ethnic minority staff faced and “a clearer path to addressing the balance.”

She added the initiatives “provide us with effective measures for the progress we are working towards in the future.” 

The proposals come following a period of deep reflection on the issue by City law firms as racial diversity and inclusion has become more prominent, partly as a result of the Black Lives Matter movement, which has led to a collective desire for accelerated change.

That has resulted in greater focus by law firms to achieve that change, with Clifford Chance flagging the issue in both its annual results and by setting its own targets. Other firms have followed suit, such as Baker McKenzie, which set up an inclusion task force.

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