By Patricia Christias, Assistant General Counsel and Microsoft UK Head of Legal
Since 2008, Microsoft has partnered with strategic partner firms through the Law Firm Diversity Program (LFDP) in the United States to help advance diversity in the legal profession. This has been achieved via an incentive-based programme that rewards firms for meeting certain diversity-related goals.
Inspired by the Microsoft US LFDP, the Microsoft UK Legal Team began asking our UK strategic law firm partners with whom we did a material volume of work to report to us the diversity of the attorneys working on our matters. Quite simply, as a diverse in-house legal team, we’ve seen first-hand the business imperative and impact of work produced by diverse teams and demanded this of the firms with whom we worked.
As we began to receive the diversity data from our strategic law firm partners, it brought greater awareness to our team and to our partner firms allowing us to more consciously staff our matters to ensure diversity. However, despite our own personal progress to increase attorney diversity on our matters, we continued to be discouraged by the slow progress overall on increasing diversity and inclusion in the legal profession in the UK, particularly in law firm leadership.
This is evidenced most recently in the SRA’s annual “How Diverse is the Legal Profession?” publication, which shows that more than half of solicitors in the UK are now women, yet only 29% are achieving partner in firms with over 50 partners. Similarly, these larger law firms have the lowest proportion of BAME partners: only 8% with no change since 2017 (and the majority of that 8% being Asian, with extremely low Black representation). If the partnership and leadership in larger full service law firms do not reflect society, then how are we to make real progress on fostering diversity in the legal profession where diverse attorneys do not see themselves reflected and included in their organisations’ leadership? The more we learn about diversity, the more we understand the vital role that inclusion plays.
In Autumn 2019, we decided we wanted to do more in the UK to help increase diversity and crucially inclusion in the legal profession. With the experience and learnings gained from our informal reporting requests, we partnered with five of our UK strategic law firm partners and our corporate headquarters to devise a pilot LFDP in the United Kingdom. Today, we are pleased to announce that this initiative to extend the Law Firm Diversity Program (LFDP) to the UK has completed its first pilot year. We are excited to announce the top performer and the most innovative firm among the strategic partner firms involved in this pilot.
Congratulations to the winning firm:
Top Performing Law Firm Award:
We are proud to honour Reed Smith as this year’s UK LFDP top performer. The number of hours that Reed Smith lawyers from diverse backgrounds spent on Microsoft matters in the past year has increased by 12.5 percentage points to 56.9%, while overall diversity on its management committee has increased by 20 percentage points to 100%. Reed Smith is making great progress in diverse representation among its partners, with more than 43% diversity. Reed Smith is making critical achievements in diverse representation within its firm and the legal industry.
Most Innovative Law Firm Award:
The Innovator award, which is voted for by law firms involved in the UK LFDP (on anonymized submissions by each firm), identifies and highlights the best diversity and inclusion ideas from a single firm. The award for most innovative law firm was created to incentivize real, meaningful and sustained progress through innovation as a core principle for the LFDP.
This year, by a unanimous vote of the Microsoft strategic firms’ peers, Reed Smith is the inaugural UK winner. Some of the diversity and inclusion initiatives favoured by their peers include:
- Women’s Initiative Network
Reed Smith launched a global Women’s Initiative Network that aims to effectively develop, reward, engage and attract female lawyers. The network’s PipelineRS programme helps female lawyers to position themselves for promotion to counsel and partner. Reed Smith also offers advice and information on what it takes to develop and own a practice, and helps women find the tools and resources they need to be successful. Reed Smith has also launched a programme to support parents returning from the birth of a child, called ReturnRS.
- Wellbeing and Lifestyle
Reed Smith has also launched numerous other programmes. These include a Mental Health Task Force to offer help and support to staff and promote psychological wellbeing, a vendor programme to identify and quantify the diversity of suppliers who do business for the firm, an inclusion group called PRISM that champions inclusion, diversity and LGBT+ engagement, and a LEADRS group that nurtures talent and celebrates the impact made by staff with disabilities.
To read more about the pilot participating firms promising diversity and inclusion initiatives, see the embedded document below.
Making the UK LFDP a permanent programme and expanding its reach
As we’ve continued to reflect on the acute state of underrepresentation in the legal profession in the UK, Microsoft will now move the UK LFDP from a pilot to a permanent programme to help bring focus to the civil and business imperative to have a diverse and inclusive legal profession. To continue making progress against our goals, we will be implementing several updates to the UK LFDP for the coming year.
- Putting a greater focus on growth of Black/Black British and Asian/Asian British or Mixed/Multiple ethnic group people in leadership, as well as continuing our focus on women in leadership. In an ongoing effort to enhance focus on particular areas of under-representation, we are allocating incentives specifically to advancing representation of Black/Black British and Asian/Asian British or Mixed/Multiple ethnic group partners in law firm leadership.
- Inviting more firms to participate in the UK LFDP. We are expanding the reach of the programme to include all United Kingdom-based firms with whom Microsoft does substantial work, which will increase the programme’s reach.
Given the current pandemic environment, we are especially grateful to our partner strategic firms not only for their significant and excellent substantive legal work, but also for their continued and urgent focus on creating a more diverse and inclusive profession and legal system. Diversity cannot be deprioritized or abandoned in challenging times. We congratulate this year’s winner for this continued determination and stand with them and all of our strategic partner firms as we use our collective influence to advance diversity in the legal profession.
Sources and where to learn more about the journey toward increasing diversity in the legal profession: