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Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law Conference 2019—’there is collective desire for a more diverse and inclusive legal industry’

Thomson Reuters Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law (TWLL) programme held its Second Annual conference in London. The aim was to bring together people from all segments of the legal industry to examine, discuss and debate the issues that create a gender imbalance in the legal profession—and to share practical steps to embed diverse leadership and cultural change across organisations.

The conference was opened by Lucinda Case, Lead, Legal Professionals of Thomson Reuters, Europe, and the TWLL sponsor. Case acknowledged that “there is a collective desire, and a sense of urgent need, for a more diverse and inclusive legal industry that increases its retention and promotion of women and other minorities”. Further, Case shared that one aspect of the TWLL programme mission is to find and share practical steps to accelerate the gender balance in leadership in our profession and help turn the dial on gender inequality. “We set up the UK chapter of TWLL 18 months ago with a big focus on what can be done to retain more women in the profession. We have a fantastically diverse group of people joining the profession but the statistics continue to show we are not seeing the right proportion staying through to partnership/leadership”, Case said.

The concept that diverse and inclusive teams are more creative and innovative, is not new. Different experiences, perspectives and approaches to solving complex problems produce better results. As such, Case set the tone by stating, “I am really pleased that the focus today is on the practical and am confident you will leave with some concrete solutions to some of the challenges you and your organisation face in trying to accelerate the pace of change”.

The conference Chair was Emma Dowden, Chief Operating Officer at Burges Salmon. Dowden is also an Advisory Board Member for the TWLL programme, and an exemplary leader in the movement to promote gender balance in the legal profession. Dowden expressed her dedication and passion to effect change in the current gender imbalance and encouraged everyone to help and be the change we want and need in the profession. After welcoming and opening the day, Dowden handed over to Axel Threlfall, Editor-at-Large for Reuters, to moderate the fireside chat on ‘what steps should the buy-side be doing to bring about change’? On the panel was Richard Price, Group General Counsel and Company Secretary, Anglo American; Natasha Good, Partner, Freshfields; and, Lucinda Case, Lead, Legal Professionals, Thomson Reuters Europe. The lively discussion and debate highlighted the two letters of commitment to support diversity and inclusion that have been published this year by General Counsel—one in the US and one from GCs based in the UK.

The next session was about research being conducted about what private practice can do to change practices that limit progression of female lawyers. TWLL has partnered with Acritas to look at what effective levers law firms are using to improve the gender balance in their organisation, and CEO Lisa Hart Shepard present interim finding of the research. Hart Shepard noted that it is an emotive subject when working to identify the main factors causing the lack of gender diversity in senior levels in law firms. When trying to uncover the most effective levers used, the same applies. The research has already shown fascinating results, albeit some potentially controversial findings, which are expected to be worthy of consideration by all law firms. The final report on the findings of the research will be published in June.

Another impressive body of research has been conducted by the International Bar Association, and Kieran Pender, Senior Legal Advisor, Legal Research & Policy Unit, presented interim findings on their research around bullying and harassment. Since the TWLL conference, the IBA has release their finding in the report, Us Too? Bullying and Harassment in the Legal Profession. This report is the product of the largest-ever global survey on bullying and sexual harassment in the profession. Nearly 7,000 individuals from 135 countries responded to the survey, from across the spectrum of legal workplaces: law firms, in-house, barristers’ chambers, government and the judiciary.

After each series of breakouts, when everyone reconvened in the main conference room, the lead of each session reported back the key takeaways to share with all delegates. And at the end of the day, Carol Aldridge, Head of Knowledge Management and Information Services at Burges Salmon presented a summary of key takeaways of ideas how to help effectuate change in the legal profession to level the playing field:

Ideas for short-term action

  • Seek support from the top, e.g. all leadership communications to include D&I elements
  • Listen to the client voice, e.g. request for proposal, and preferences for mixed gender teams
  • Make commitments to support change in your organisation
  • Raise awareness e.g. unconscious bias training
  • Listen to and engage with colleagues—it’s never too early
  • Pay it forward
  • Call it out

Longer term areas for focus

  • Keep D&I on the agenda—be an unignorable agent for change
  • Develop a sophisticated, multi-dimensional D&I strategy
  • Use measurable targets / quotas (3 years+)
  • Also use stories / experiences to support “be what you see”
  • Build on gender equality gains to focus on broader diversity
  • Keep it human, e.g. quiet leadership and one to one conversations
  • Look out for totemic change opportunities

Inspiring words

  • Change is never inevitable-it takes commitment and effort
  • Let’s fix the culture!
  • A strong change story is essential
  • We can drive business benefits for all through inclusivity
  • Diversity is not everyone being the same
  • We need a cohesive, multi-dimensional approach
  • Listen to the millennials…
  • Be brave!

At the end of the conference, Case spoke to the incredibly positive responses attributed to the TWLL conference and programme received during the breaks. In addition to thanking the speakers and delegates for participating, Case expressed sincere gratitude for the TWLL programme Advisory Board members which are “drawn from different parts of the legal profession, and are all people prepared to give generously with their time to work on this challenge and who are inspiring leaders themselves”. Case ended on the note of saying, “I want you to go away today feeling that any measures we take to level the playing field should be encourage and celebrated”. Indeed, every effort—no matter how small—will help turn the dial just a little more towards a more balanced and equal future in the legal profession.

Watch the video highlights from the Second Annual TWLL Conference 2019:



”Building Back Better” – an A to Z for leaders in law Empowering change to build back better – a four-step guide for law firm leaders What COVID-19 tells us about the future of work for lawyers The Hearing: Episode 72—Joeli Brearley (Pregnant Then Screwed) The future of diversity, equity and inclusion in the legal sector—time for a transformative approach The Hearing: Episode 66 – Christina Blacklaws (strategic consultant and the 174th president of the Law Society) Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law—Advancing Equality for Women at the Bar Webinar Podcast: gender equality and cultural change during uncertain times Thomson Reuters President and CEO, Steve Hasker—we must do more Insights for diverse leadership and a culture to support change—TWLL webinar series