It is that time of year where we turn to thoughts of how we better ourselves. Diets, gym membership, language courses, digital detoxes and who knows what else. My annual resolutions are always the same: to read a book a week (which I just about achieved in 2018 but failed dismally in 2019) and to swim three times a week. We shall see!
But what of our working lives? How – over the next year – can we improve what we do at work? Given that it is the start of the year I thought it might be useful to take a moment to focus on a challenge set to the profession last year.
In their programme for government last year, the Scottish Government focused on equality and diversity in the profession including challenging the legal professions in three ways. Speeches from the Lord Advocate and Minister for Community Safety have added detail to these challenges.
The first is for the profession to adopt a zero-tolerance approach to bullying and harassment. This is the Society’s own position and we are pleased to see others supporting our approach. I’d guess most in the profession support this yet we know from our own research that bullying continues to occur in the profession. As a useful first step why not check out our preventing bullying and harassment guidance. A second step would be to read the recommendations of the IBA’s Us Too? report.
The second main challenge is that all law firms should commit to introduce family-friendly workforce policies such as flexible working by 2023. We’ll be introducing guidance on this mainstreaming flexible working soon. This is more complex than it sounds: the profession is a varied place. There isn’t a one-size fits all approach. Some legal businesses will have hugely flexible arrangements but not have a policy written down. Does a sole practitioner with no staff really need a flexible working policy? How do criminal defence firms combine professional obligations – such as middle of the night police station visits! – with a family friendly approach? And we are aware that other factors outside the firm matter – are the courts set up to assist those working flexibly?
Rather than look for every potential hiccough let’s start from the premise that we aren’t in a position to chase talented people out of the door and we should look to become more flexible where we can. The message from the wider economy is clear: if we don’t get this right other industries who do will be attractive to our members.
The final challenge is that there should be a year-on-year increase of the number of female partners in Scottish law firms so that by 2028 we reach 50% female partners. We have seen the percentage of partner positions held by women rise in recent years and predict that will continue. Our own Profile of the Profession research though suggested that women are more likely to be salary than equity partners and generally take longer to make partner than their male colleagues. That suggests firms need to take some time to ask why that is happening and what they can do to improve things.
We understand that all firms will determine for themselves how to respond to these challenges. Similarly, in-house teams may well consider how they can become involved in these challenges potentially in discussion with the firms they instruct.
Over the coming months I’ll be posting occasional blogs focusing on particular areas about hints and tips about what firms can do to improve when it comes to gender equality. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the challenges and how the profession can address them. Just drop me a line.