In the past, the legal profession was often defined by the old adage “It’s not about what you know, it’s about who you know.” In turn, this discouraged people without connections and those from marginalised communities from pursuing a career in law, resulting in a lack of diversity across the field. But since then, the legal sector has experienced a transformational shift, breaking down the barriers of privilege and paving the way for a more accessible and diverse industry that values merit and inclusivity.
Dan Jones, Human Resources Director at the law firm Clarke Willmott, met with GoodCourse’s Chris Mansfield to discuss topics ranging from his journey into people leadership to his firm’s efforts to promote diversity and inclusion and improve access to the legal sector.
I’m the Director of Human Resources (HR) at Clarke Willmott. We’re a national law firm which offers a broad range of legal services to businesses and individuals. We have around 675 employees across seven different offices in the UK.
My passion has always been understanding how to create growing, sustainable businesses. Early in my career, I realised the key to that was people, so I stepped into HR pretty early on. It offers an excellent opportunity to bring together all the crucial aspects of a business: values, performance, and the experiences we create for each other. I progressed from there, and I consider myself fortunate to have a privileged position in a leadership role in the people space. Hopefully, I want to have a positive impact on the experiences our people have at work and how they feel about their careers.
The Diversity and Inclusion Agenda is a key part of our identity here at Clarke Willmott. Like many organisations, we try to reflect on where we are, and although we’ve made good progress there is still a lot of work to do. Two or three years ago, we established a Diversity and Inclusion Committee, bringing together colleagues from all levels of the organisation. That group has been critical to our approach, and they’ve been tasked by the board to hold us to account: to challenge us, to set targets, and to shine a spotlight on where we need to improve. Sometimes, a lot of diversity and inclusion initiatives can be seen as being driven by HR, but for me, it’s important that EDI is embedded into everything we do. We’ve acknowledged that we can’t do everything at once, so we’re currently focusing on three areas: gender equality, racial equality, and social mobility.
This year, we’ve put a huge emphasis on data. We’ve realised having data on our workforce is necessary to understand what’s really going on at the firm: it can help us see where we are moving the dial and where we need to make changes. We’re also working to broaden access to the law and advance our social mobility agenda. In the past, getting into law was often seen as about “knowing the right people”, and we’ve tried to do away with that so we can reach out to the wider community. To achieve that, we’ve expanded our work with schools to show students how they can find a pathway into professional services. Finally, we’re promoting mentorship wherever we can, building dedicated schemes with students in tertiary and higher education to try and ease their transition into the world of work.
It’s certainly a challenge. Though our solicitors are certainly time-poor, they are nevertheless driven by community impact and purpose. As a firm, we need to recognise all the different components of legal work. When we’re evaluating performance, we can’t just look at billable hours, and we need to be holistic in our assessments. For example, one of our partners realised that inclusion was a challenge in the property sector, and decided to set up a new Property Inclusion Charter. As a firm, we are trying to recognise the breadth of work being done by our people; we really want them to have a social impact. There is huge value in that work, in terms of delivering results, developing skillsets, and helping the community. We need to make sure all of our mechanisms are set up to enable people to do that.
It’s a difficult question, as there’s not always the empirical evidence to show the causal relationship between EDI initiatives and the bottom line. From my perspective, it’s important to emphasise the experiences of our people and embrace the storytelling aspect. When you’re in a leadership group, there can be a tendency to drift towards groupthink. Sometimes it takes someone with a different background or set of experiences to bring something completely new to the table. That might not show up on the balance sheet, but it’s still a massive contribution to success. If we can replicate that diversity of thought throughout the organisation, then that can be incredibly powerful.
Just be inquisitive. Keep on pushing to deepen your understanding of your organisation and the profession it’s in. Know how interactions with clients make people feel. Understanding relationships can help build stronger teams and organisations moving forward.