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Embracing legal directory submissions as a powerful driver of truly diverse and inclusive partnerships and senior leadership teams in Law Firms

It is legal directory submission time again, the most important PR exercise of the year for firms and individual lawyers.  Practices are built, promotions secured, and opportunities gifted on the back of legal directory rankings. And the person who holds the pen in those submissions, holds the career of colleagues and the future leadership diversity of their firm in their hands. The lack of gender and racial diversity in legal directory rankings was a topic of much discussion last year – so what can lawyers and their firms do to help address this issue and to drive change?

Individual lawyers need to be in it to win it – this means understanding the importance of being promoted by the firm in its submissions, and also of your providing quality content for inclusion.  Ensure that your profile and successes of the previous year are properly featured in the submission. Ask to see the draft to ensure you are in there, your best work is highlighted and properly reflected, and that the firm is actively promoting you in a balanced and proportionate way alongside your peers, as far as reasonably possible.

Ensure, too, that you have excellent external referees – a number of people who are willing and can be relied upon at some unknown point in the year ahead – to speak up loudly for you on the quality of your work and your position in the market; and then make sure that those names, as far as possible, make the final cut of the often-limited permitted number of referee names in the submission.

If your successes are underrepresented or tucked away unnoticed at the back, politely ask the person responsible for the submission to consider rebalancing it to give you more equal airtime in the document. If you believe that you are being treated less favourably than, for example, your male or white peers, ask the firm to explain the perceived disparity in treatment so that they can assess and address this as appropriate. If the firm does not effectively respond to the issue or provide a legitimate reason for the difference in coverage in the submissions, then more formal steps such as raising a grievance may be necessary to seek an early resolution of the issue.

For firms, it is crucial that the directory submissions are reviewed not just from a marketing and PR point of view but also from a trained diversity and inclusion perspective. Submissions are typically prepared by anyone from heads of teams or department and individual practice group partners to marketing colleagues, however they tend to be primarily controlled by someone with a vested personal interest in its outcome. Regardless of who prepares the draft, there should be a separate D&I assessment and moderation of each team submission to ensure that this significant opportunity for lawyer profile-building is fairly and appropriately shared amongst team members.

The firm should check that the submission and referee list is not overly and unfairly focused on existing ranked individuals (who will often tend to be predominantly white British men) to the exclusion of up-and-coming lawyers who may be women or from minority groups.

Train those partners and marketing professionals who are responsible for the directory submissions in the importance of diversity and inclusion. It is also key to actively remind partners and associates in good time of the significance of the directory submissions, and of their engaging with them early to ensure their successes and referees are included.

Lawyers and their firms alike directly benefit from carefully balanced directory submissions which highlight the firm’s diverse talent, and consciously (and consistently) build female and minority lawyer profiles to help them develop their profiles and practices. Firms should actively embrace their directory submissions as one of the most powerful drivers they have to achieve equity partner diversity quotas, and to build truly diverse and inclusive partnerships and senior leadership teams for the future.

Clare Murray is Managing Partner of specialist employment and partnership law firm CM Murray LLP, which is ranked at Tier 1 and Band 1 for Partnership and Employment Law (Senior Executives) by Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners. Clare is individually ranked in the Hall of Fame and as a Star Individual for Partnership Law,  and in the Hall of Fame and Band 1 for Employment (Senior Executives).