A standard survey that measures diversity and inclusion (D&I) in law firms should be adopted widely in order to get a more accurate picture of D&I across the UK legal sector, some in-house lawyers say.

The InterLaw Diversity Forum UK Model Diversity Survey (UK MDS) is a standard set of questions, adapted from The American Bar Association (ABA), ‘s Model Diversity Survey which began four years ago in the US. The survey measures and assesses diversity, inclusion and culture in law firms.

Crafty Counsel’s content theme for October is “the legal team in a changing world”. We look at D&I and how in-house lawyers can use their voices with clients to drive change in the industry.

Ann Silla, Senior Legal Counsel, says diversity and inclusion shouldn’t be a tick box exercise, and that a more diverse and inclusive work space will create better ways of working.

I think that diversity creates diversity of thought, which creates diversity of the way you’re operating, which means more inclusion for everybody, and different and better ways of working together as well. 

Ann Silla, Senior Legal Counsel

Ann says she looks for firms to work with that are actively trying to be more diverse and inclusive.

The ABA Model Diversity Survey, which was launched in the US four years ago, has over 150 signatories and over 400 law firms participating in it.

The UK’s version so far has over 20 client signatories, including Google, HSBC and Barclays Europe.

In-house lawyers, who make up a quarter of the legal profession, sign up as signatories with law firms coming on board to take part in the survey and declare their data.

Answers to the survey are analysed and showcased on a Microsoft dashboard, allowing in-house counsel to compare how firms are performing in terms of diversity and inclusion.

A report by the Law Society in 2020 highlights the lack of diversity in the most senior positions in law firms and that women, black, and minority ethic lawyers are underrepresented at the top postings in firms.

Every two years the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) requires law firms to submit data on diversity and inclusion at their firms. This data submitted to the SRA can be used for the UK MDS as the categories measured are purposefully the same as the SRA categories.

Catherine McGregor, Inclusion and Diversity specialist at the Interlaw Diversity Forum, says adopting a standardised diversity survey will help to start a conversation about creating a more inclusive work environment in the UK’s legal sector.

“We can’t really have an informed adult conversation about increasing diversity, equity and inclusion in the profession unless we truly know the state of diversity, equity and inclusion in the legal profession,” she says.

Catie Sheret, General Counsel of Cambridge University Press & Assessment, says she signed up to the survey because she does not have an external organisation to analyse the data and provide feedback in an “easy to read format”.

The survey was convenient in that it allowed her to access the data via a Microsoft dashboard and look at and compare the data across the external firms she uses is a definite benefit of the UK MDS.

Firms will benefit by using the survey as it will be more efficient to fill in a standardised questionnaire than to field individual requests on diversity and inclusion from clients, she says.

“It should cut down on the number of different surveys they’re being asked to complete,” Catie says.

If firms compare poorly in comparison to other firms then that would prompt “the start of a conversation”.

Catie sees the survey as an opportunity for in-house lawyers to collaborate with law firms on how to increase diversity and inclusion and report accurately on it. She would like to see the survey adopted widely within the UK legal sector.

“I think this needs to be a kind of two way process, a collaborative process with law firms, not something that just gets imposed by clients without any concern for what the impact is on the firms having to complete all of these things. So if we can do it as an industry, I just think that’s so powerful.”

Ann, Catherine, and Catie joined us for a video interview to discuss the role of in-house lawyers in driving diversity and inclusion.