Diversify or be left behind, expert warns

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Firms need to diversify to keep up with NewLaw, according to Symmetra CEO Heather Price.

In the current legal market, where non lawyers can own law firms, Price said that traditional firms are now competing with diverse innovators.

“You’ve got business people with business brains running law firms who are now offering more for less, being very creative and innovative,” Price said at a Women Lawyers Association event yesterday.

“The reality is in the current economic cycle, the ability to change and innovate has become a major strategic lever for sustainable growth.
“It means that a law firm today, if it doesn’t evolve, it’s going to die.”

The tendency for lawyers to be sceptical and resilient is part in parcel with the job.  But Price said these aren’t qualities that necessarily allow them to effectively leverage diversity.

“These are definitely not the ingredients for being responsive to change.  And this is why so many law firms are struggling such a great deal.”
Having once hired diverse candidates in order to hit targets and for other social justice reasons, firms have now realised the strategic advantage diversity can offer.

But in order to fully leverage diversity, firms need to be aware of the disadvantages of unconscious bias.

“We make errors in judgement every single day because of the design of the machinery of our thinking,” said Price.

“You have to accept that if you’ve got a whole lot of people working in a firm or in a practice group that they have their individual biases.”

While it’s impossible to change natural biases, Price said it is possible to change the environment in which people make decisions by removing certain factors.  Many firms are blocking out factors like gender and law school during the hiring process, in order to a select a more diverse pool of candidates.
And while Price said diversity is not only about gender, making firms more women friendly plays a big part.

“What progressive law firms are going today is producing down up and down dip career paths,” she said. 

“They are accepting that women who are coming into law actually want to practice law for 40 or 50 years just like the men.  They do not want to work until they have a baby and never come back.”

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