Gender diversity in legal directories: can we do better?

As we near the end of 2020 and with the majority of legal directory rankings now released, we can look back at whether there have been improvements with regard to gender diversity in legal directories.

This topic is gathering increasing attention within the industry. In 2019, Chambers and Partners launched their D&I Charter. They announced a series of pledges to drive more diversity in the legal profession. This included hiring a new Head of Diversity & Inclusion, Dee Sekar.

However, a few months later, the 2019/20 rankings were released. Chris Arnold, a Partner at Mayer Brown specialising in Derivatives and Structured Products, criticised Chambers and Partners when he learnt that there was only one woman ranked in his specialism alongside 16 men. He asked for his removal from the rankings, to drive awareness of the “completely unrepresent[ed] extraordinary female talent in this sector”. His post, published on LinkedIn, has been viewed 43,000 times.

Which brings us to the 2020/21 research cycle. We consider the progress of diversity in the legal directory rankings during the past year.

The legal directory ranking results are in for gender diversity

In the wake of several initiatives implemented by Chambers and Partners, the Chambers UK and UK Bar guides for 2021 have demonstrated increases in gender diversity and equality both across the board and in many practice areas.

The rankings show nearly complete parity in the gender split. This year, new rankings comprised 52% men to 48% women. The previous year the split was 58/42 male to female.

In the 2016 Bar guide, 78% of all rankings were men while 22% were women. This year’s guide has seen a small increase to 26% women. What is encouraging though are the results at the junior end of the bar. The percentage of ‘Up and Coming’ female barristers in the 2021 guide now stands at 43%. This is up from 30% in 2020, a strong 13% increase in a year.

Moreover, there are improvements across all individual categories. In the ‘Star Associates’ category (the top ranking available for associates), 65% of new rankings were for female practitioners, representing a 7% increase from 2020’s cycle. This is also apparent in Band 1 and Band 2. Together with Star Associates, there was an 11% increase of the number of female lawyers.p to 44% from 33% in 2020.

There has also been a number of improvements in specific practice area categories. Health & Safety achieved over parity for the first time with 55% female solicitors (a 6% increase). Civil Fraud experienced a boost in female representation by 4.6%, bringing it to 30%.

Improvements seen around the world

We can also see improvements in the Chambers USA guide. In this year’s cycle, 32% of newly ranking lawyers are female. This is up from 25% in the 2019/20 guide. Similarly, Chambers Latin America has reported that there has been a 3% increase in the number of female ranked lawyers over the last five years. They also highlight that 19% of all individual rankings in the guide are now female.

These are encouraging signs across all seniorities and between multiple regions of Chambers’ guides. While there is still progress to be made, we can see that there is a positive uptick of gender diversity in legal directories.

How did Chambers increase gender diversity?

Chambers and Partners has been transparent about the measures they’ve taken to increase gender diversity in both nominees and referees.

  • Chambers researchers speak to an even spread of male and female lawyers.
  • The introduction of D&I themes into research interviews.
  • Researchers undergo D&I training so that they can analyse submissions to spot subtle biases or inconsistencies.

In a podcast by Chambers UK and UK Bar, it was revealed that the UK Solicitors and Bar guides have introduced an “Absent Leave” section on their submission template. This is for nominees to explain why Chambers may be seeing less work from them in the research cycle. This reflects any parental leave taken throughout the year and also provides an opportunity to explain sabbaticals or periods of illness. They stress that they handle this information with the utmost confidentiality.

What can law firms do to further facilitate progress on gender diversity in legal directories?

One of the ways law firms can help women in law gain better representation in legal directory rankings lies in tackling unconscious bias.

The language used in a reference can and does differ between those of female lawyers and those of male. Some examples of language used to describe female barristers includes the words:

thorough, thoughtful, a very nice person, well-organised, responsive, easy to work with, and extremely nice.

Words and phrases used to describe male barristers in the same practice areas included:

phenomenal advocate, a genius cross-examiner, with an outstanding intellect, razor-sharp mind, frighteningly clever.

While there is nothing wrong with the terminology per se, the words and phrases used to describe female lawyers refer more often to the nominee’s personality and work ethic rather than being a reflection of their skills, intelligence and tenacity.

This linguistic phenomenon has become so apparent in recent years that Allen & Overy‘s David Stone, Global Head of Intellectual Property, announced that the firm was piloting a project that would monitor the language used to describe its female barristers in nominations. He noted that adjectives used in references for female barristers were often ‘softer’ and less aggressive than those used to describe their male counterparts.

You can avoid heavily gender-biased references by encouraging referees to:

  • Provide more than monosyllabic appraisals
  • Paint an honest picture of your lawyers’ key skills and intellectual qualities (not just their personality traits)
  • Read through their reference with an eye for any unconscious biases
  • Ask themselves how they’d like to be described in their role. Would they prefer to be described as being ‘nice’ to work with you or would they hope to be referred to as ‘unrivalled legal talent’?

What implications does this have for future gender diversity in the legal profession?

Linguistic amends to a legal directory submission may seem small. But all these changes combine to increase the likelihood that women in law secure the rankings they deserve in the legal directories. This, in turn, will ensure more female role models within the industry and inspire more women to enter the legal profession themselves.

The statistics from the latest Chambers and Partners UK guide and Bar guide demonstrate that progress has taken place towards establishing more gender diversity in legal directories. As well as the wider legal profession. However, there is still more that we can be doing to fill the gaps. Both on the part of the legal directories and law firms.

Addressing gendered and biased language in submissions and references is a simple way to ensure the representation of your female lawyers in the rankings. In turn, gender diversity can progress even further.

For more information on how to improve your legal directory rankings, you can contact us here.

How to network at a virtual conference

Few people could have foreseen that virtual conferencing would come into a world of its own in 2020. Attending a virtual conference is now one of the many ‘new normals’. As many 2020 events have moved online, it’s necessary to make the most of them. So that we get the benefits previously derived from in-person events.

In many ways, virtual conferencing is similar to attending a physical event. The same preparation is worthwhile. Research who is exhibiting. Make a note of the sessions and seminars you’d like to attend. And always follow up with new contacts post-event. These processes are not exclusive to in-person events; they are just as critical for a virtual conference.

However, it’s the actual experience of a virtual conference where a lot has changed.

In preparation for this year’s Legal Marketing Association’s Annual Conference, we share our top tips on how to network at a virtual conference.

1.    Research the speakers and exhibitors you’d be interested in connecting with

Researching the speakers and exhibitors that you’d like to connect with at a physical event is good practice. It is no different for virtual conferences and exhibitions. Use Google or LinkedIn to research people you’d like to introduce yourself to. This step is even more important virtually as the chance of ‘bumping’ into people has disappeared.

Hashtags are a great way to find out who is attending. Search and follow the event’s hashtag so you can engage with other attendees’ content prior to the event. You can even connect with them prior to the event. Just make sure that you include an introductory note to make the connection more personable.

2.    Audience participation is paramount during a virtual conference

There’s usually an awkward silence in a conference where people ask if there are questions from the audience. In a virtual environment, this is even more the case. Engage with the conversation whenever possible. This could be during the seminar’s chatroom, offering up insightful comments or asking questions during the audience Q&A portion. Not only will this help facilitate discussion, but it also brings awareness to your professional expertise and that of your company.

Break the ice with other attendees by acknowledging the different format: “This is unexpected, isn’t it! How are you finding it?”

3.    Remember that everyone is in the same situation

No one expected 2020’s events and networking to suddenly be conducted from our computer monitors. Everyone is experiencing this newfound feeling of unfamiliarity. Use this to your advantage by connecting with people. Break the ice with other attendees by acknowledging the different format: “This is unexpected, isn’t it! How are you finding it?” A common experience is a great leveller and conversation starter at a virtual conference.

4.    Be familiar with the virtual platform before the start of the event 

It’s daunting enough to deal with virtual conferences and exhibitions, let alone getting to grips with new technology. Spend some time on the virtual conferencing platform prior to the event to get to know the layout and how it works. There may even be tutorials on the event’s website to help guide you through. If you’re also attending the LMA this month, you can find their tutorials here.

Spend some time on the virtual conferencing platform before the event to get to know the layout and how it works.

5.    Prepare your elevator pitch for pre-seminar waiting room moments

Having an elevator pitch prepared is a tried and tested business strategy for those fleeting moments of introduction to a new contact. One of the benefits of the virtual setting is the ability to prepare different versions to refer to in that moment.

This preparation saves a great deal of time and stress, instead of trying to think up an introduction spontaneously. Equally, it gives you the opportunity to succinctly introduce your professional experience and your organisation’s offering. Confidence in your delivery helps make you more memorable to other attendees.

6.    Remember to visit exhibitors in their virtual booths. 

Perhaps one of the most noticeable differences is for exhibitors. Virtual booths aim to replicate traditional stands. However, it is no longer possible to bump into contacts in the corridors. Have catch-up coffees. Visit a variety of stands. Do look at the exhibitor list and book appointments with those who could make a difference to your firm.

Look at the exhibitor list and book appointments with those who could make a difference to your firm.

Virtual conferences and exhibitions are still worthwhile events to attend. They provide the opportunity to connect with those in your industry and learn the latest sector-related developments. All you need to do is tweak a few of your tactics. We hope that these tips will help you navigate the uncharted territory that is virtual networking and make the most of this year’s LMA conference.

Kidd Aitken is exhibiting at this year’s Legal Marketing Association‘s Annual Conference, with co-founding director Daniel Kidd in attendance. If you would like to book some time with him in advance, you can do so here. We look forward to welcoming you to discuss how Kidd Aitken can help your firm climb the legal directory rankings.

Learn how to prepare perfect legal directory submissions

At Kidd Aitken, we love legal directory submissions. Daniel Kidd and Jacob Aitken, our co-directors, are both ex-Chambers editors. Between them, they have reviewed thousands of submissions. Today, Kidd Aitken helps over 200 international law firms ease the burden of directory submissions. Our team of former editors and researchers from Chambers and The Legal 500 compile, review and edit tens of thousands of submissions from firms throughout the world.

We do everything from advise on best practice for your submissions to taking on the entire process. Including the post-submission referee feedback process.

We know how frustrating this experience can be, so we want to share our knowledge.

Please join us on the 2nd December for an insider’s guide into how to craft perfect legal directory submissions.

Hosted by Daniel Kidd, this webinar will guide you through how to:

  • Strategize for legal directory submissions.
  • Write an effective submission.
  • Get the most from the client referee process.

Daniel will then explain how directories make their ranking decisions. He’ll also cover what researchers actually read and how to write persuasive submissions. And, above all, how to make sure your referees provide the best feedback.

If you are responsible for legal directory submissions, or a partner looking for information on how to improve your firm’s rankings, you should not miss this webinar.

This webinar was given to the Legal Marketing Association and the feedback was outstanding: “This was one of the most informative LMA webinars. It should be repeated.”

If you can’t make this time and date, you can still register to receive an on-demand recording.