Celebrating diversity in law

Today's young lawyers come from a much more diverse background than their predecessors ever did, says Piers Warburton
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The Independent Online

Of all occupations, it is surely the legal profession that should embrace diversity with the greatest enthusiasm. The principles of equality and of respect for individual rights, irrespective of background are, after all, fundamental to the law.

Yet for too long it seemed that diversity presented a great challenge to the profession. The old traditions of the law firm and the barristers' chambers died hard, and talk of old boys' networks and glass ceilings lingered. Meanwhile, other professions recognised and welcomed the benefits of a diverse workforce.

However, there can be no doubt that the legal profession has changed fundamentally over the past decade. A short walk around the office of any major law firm illustrates that today's young lawyers come from far more diverse backgrounds than their predecessors ever did.

The reality, of course, is that the profession had no choice but to embrace change. Faced with increasingly sophisticated clients, the demands of globalisation, and with ever more intense competition, no law firm can afford to ignore talent. Furthermore, the development of an active legal recruitment market means that the talent can go wherever its skills are best recognised. In many ways it is competition that is destroying old prejudices.

But if the changing attitudes of law firms have been driven, in part at least, by economic necessity, does that mean that the changes are somehow less sincere and the effect of those changes less profound? In a word, no. First, there is, of course, nothing more sincere than a law firm in pursuit of its own economic wellbeing. And second, whatever the causes may be, the changes that are taking place are not just profound, but irreversible. A truly diverse organisation will maintain its own diversity. To a degree, therefore, it does not matter how or why that diversity comes about - merely that it does.

Of course, the process of change is not yet complete. However, the fact that law firms are publicly recognising the importance of diversity is the clearest indicator of their determination to complete the process that has begun.

The legal profession continues to provide a variety of enormously challenging and rewarding careers. This magazine is designed to explain some of the choices open to those considering a career in the law, and to provide an insight into life in the profession. In particular, it aims to explain some of the steps being taken to extend access to the profession to all parts of society. That such prestigious law firms have chosen to support this magazine is evidence of the fundamental changes that have been taking place within the profession. It is those firms that embrace diversity that will reap its rewards and that fact is something we can all celebrate.

Piers Warburton is co-founder of RollOnFriday ( www.rollonfriday.com)