Eversheds calls for an end to diversity blame game

<a class=Eversheds calls for an end to diversity blame game” class=”inline_image inline_image_left” src=”/pictures/web/images/12414_64_wilson.gif” />CITY law firms and in-house lawyers have backed an Eversheds plan to launch an alliance that would see recruitment agencies having to do more to tackle diversity.

But in The Lawyer last week ( 9 June 2008), recruiters hit back at claims from Eversheds head of diversity Caroline Wilson that they were not monitoring candidates’ race, gender or sexuality. The story led to an unprecedented debate on TheLawyer.com, with more than 100 readers comments at the time of writng.

Wilson has proposed the formation of an alliance that will force recruitment agencies to pay more attention to diversity, with magic circle firms Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance and Linklaters all saying they would be interested in signing up. Addleshaw Goddard, Beachcroft and Herbert Smith have also shown an interest in the plan, while in-house lawyers at companies such as Dupont and Transport for London have also given their backing.

Baring Asset Management global general counsel Sandie Okoro says such an alliance would be a big step in the right direction.

“I was delighted to see that a law firm has at last had the courage to take the diversity bull firmly by the horns,” says Okoro. “I applaud Eversheds’ diversity initiative. It’s truly groundbreaking. After all, diversity is something all law firms should strive to have in common.”

However, some recruiters believe Eversheds is trying to pass the buck on the reasons for there being a lack of diversity within the profession.

One senior level recruiter comments: “I would suggest that law firms should take a long hard look at their own practices rather than pointing the finger of blame elsewhere.”

Wilson counters this by saying that nobody should be trying to allocate blame. “This is a profession-wide problem and we need to embrace it together to ensure we have a sustainable business model for the future,” she says.

Wilson says the legal profession is years behind the likes of the investment banking industry and companies in the FTSE100, both of which saw the need to tackle diversity long ago.

“To catch up, we as law firms and recruiters both need to be on board,” says Wilson. “Some recruiters have said that it’s up to the law firms to provide a better pool at entrance level and I absolutely agree.”

Wilson adds that Eversheds hopes to help tackle the problem by looking beyond the UK’s top 20 universities when it comes to recruitment.

“With Leeds Metropolitan we’re creating a compulsory module to help law students get into City law firms. So we’re making moves to widen the pool at entry level,” she says.

Where the recruitment agencies come into play is at the more experienced end of employment, says Wilson. “We need to look at what happens to, say, women after they’ve gone on maternity leave – why have they not returned? It’s issues like this that recruiters can help with.”

Wilson continues: “Of course I’m not saying that recruiters should have to monitor areas that we, as law firms, do not do ourselves. That would be unfair. Also, I’m not expecting that, for instance, they should monitor religion from day one but it would be helpful to monitor gender and race in the near future.”

While some recruiters have reacted angrily to the assumption that they do not pull their weight on diversity, there is a general recognition that it must be taken more seriously as an issue affecting the profession as a whole.

Gary ;Jones ;of ;recruitment consultancy First Counsel says: “Law firms have been getting more involved in diversity, as have their clients, which is why we want to see what is expected of us. But we need help from the law firms as well. We recently acted upon a couple of pieces of advice from one of our biggest clients and if law firms continue to tell us what they expect of us we’ll be willing to do it.”

Recruiters may not be happy with Wilson’s initial comments, but she has certainly brought the debate to the fore. It is clear the legal industry wants change and that can only be done through constructive dialogue.

To read more on the original Eversheds diversity row, click here; read about the FTSE100’s call for diversity click here, or for more on diversity in the law click here.