How are law firms responding to the need for more cognitive diversity?
At Linklaters we have long understood and appreciated that a diverse team will invariably deliver to our clients a better service. Cognitive diversity is but one element of this theme. Until relatively recently lawyers interacted directly with clients and all other members of the firm supported their efforts; invariably from behind the scenes. Our lawyers now need to be tech savvy and many other parts of the Firm engage actively with our clients. Our paralegals, and our recently launched contract lawyer platform “Re:link”, are further indications of the ever-widening pool of talent, and the increasing levels of cognitive diversity, within our teams.
Legal project managers are now working more actively with our clients, and we employ programmers to work alongside our lawyers as we see an increase in the adoption of legal tech and artificial intelligence in the legal market. Lastly, at Linklaters we have colleagues who are on the autistic spectrum and we recognise that they will have an approach to problem solving which many others will not. As with each of our various strands of talent within Linklaters, it is important that they feel supported and part of the wider team. It is important that law firms recognise that, the greater the cognitive diversity within their teams, the harder they will need to work to ensure that they feel included.
How do you think flexible working and a work/home life balance will affect the traditional routes to partnership?
We want to ensure that our very best people become our partners. This does not mean that we select the best of those at, say, 8 years PQE only. We don’t have an “up or out” approach to careers by which you are judged after being a lawyer for a prescribed number of years. We all progress at different rates, and it is important that we recognise this. If someone chooses to work part -time it may mean that they take longer to gain the requisite experience and market standing than a colleague who does not. This does not make them a less talented lawyer or reduce their chances of partnership. Indeed, we have seen that supporting a colleagues’ request to work on an agile basis, including part-time, often engenders an even greater sense of loyalty to the firm. We are people first and lawyers second.
During our lifetimes, most of us will have various caring responsibilities, whether as a parent, a child, as a result of illness or otherwise. If we do not accommodate the needs of our colleagues wherever possible, we will not be promoting the very best into the Partnership as we will be choosing from a reduced pool of talent. Technology has changed the way we deliver our service to clients. They are ambivalent as to where their lawyer is when they press the “send” button. Here at Linklaters are placing a great emphasis on improved agility in our day to day working environment as well as our approach to individual career paths. Opening up the ways that people can work so they can achieve their work and life goals, means that careers are less linear, and the pace of progression to partner will vary more.
One of the really great benefits of this changing approach at Linklaters is that our partnership is becoming increasingly diverse as a result and will continue to do so in the future.
What more needs to be done to improve the collaboration between in-house and law firms?
I think that we already enjoy a high level of collaboration, but are always seeking to do more. Both ourselves and in-house counsel teams are looking to deliver a service that supports the business needs of our ultimate “joint” client. I think it is important that we continue to work closely with our clients, whether they are lawyers or not, to understand how we may, by working together, deliver a product that is helpful to them and their business. We need to understand both their business requirements and also how our work may be delivered to best meet their own expectations and needs. Nowadays this extends beyond pure legal advice and we are continually looking to increase the number of ‘touch points’ between Linklaters and our clients to maximise the efficiency of our service and the value our clients place upon it. We need to ensure that, where possible, our systems dovetail with theirs.
Our knowledge and learning, innovation and efficiency, and technology teams are now speaking regularly with our clients and we are also doing some really good work with them through the combined efforts of our diversity and inclusion teams. In-house legal teams have many of the same needs and focus as law firms: how to recruit, retain and develop talent; be efficient and do more with less; and find innovative ways of working. There is a lot that we can share with our clients on these points and, similarly, a lot we can learn from them. This in turn opens new ways of thinking about collaboration between Linklaters and our clients.
What are your top tips for being successful in your career?
Enjoy what you do and ensure that you are adding value to the situation in hand. Be supportive of colleagues and deal with the other side as you would wish them to deal with you. Don’t raise a point that you wouldn’t be prepared to give if you were on the receiving end. Apply common sense to situations and seek to develop meaningful and lasting client relationships. Understand the business aims and strategy of your clients as your legal advice will be much the better for it. If you no longer get a buzz from winning a new mandate or closing a difficult transaction, then you have been in the job too long.
Lastly, ensure that you coach and encourage the next generation. The life of a lawyer may be tough, we may have to work long hours, but we don’t have a monopoly on either and the satisfaction we derive from a job well done means that we are fortunate to be part of the profession. I know that I am.