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Diversity and Disruption: Are Law Companies the Answer to Law’s Diversity Problem?


The Lawyer’s recent analysis of the Solicitors Regulations Authority’s report on diversity in law firms shows a significant ethnic diversity gap, particularly at partnership level. The industry average gender pay gap stands at 21.7%.

What if the legal world could start again, with a clean slate? Disruptive law companies like Elevate recognise that these inconsistencies need not exist in the profession.  Elevate is redefining the business of law using a combination of technology solutions, legal project management and flexible lawyering services.  This offers them a unique opportunity to create a truly diverse legal resource.

In this interview John Croft, Co-Founder and President of Elevate, explains why radical action is needed to achieve diversity, and how Elevate is helping to build the diverse legal sector of the future.

When you founded Elevate, what did you want to achieve?

“When the founders of Elevate sat down together to establish the company, achieving a diverse workforce was a big part of our definition of success.  We developed core values of equitability and inclusion to help us achieve this. We wanted Elevate to be a role model for the rest of the legal sector.

It struck me that, in some respects, diversity and equitability in law isn’t improving.  The Times reported in September 2019 that the top 10 law firms in the UK still pay men 43% more than women.  I kept asking myself, how can this be good for law firms – or for their customers?

We want to redefine how legal work is done, where it is done, and who does it to get the best possible outcome for our customers (we have customers, not clients).  Having a diverse workforce is an essential part of this. We want our customers to benefit from the diversity of thought that our lawyers can provide, so we put diversity at the core of our business model.”

What is Elevate’s diversity strategy?

“We know we have to act aggressively to correct the gender, ethnicity and age imbalances that exist in the legal market.  We are growing fast, and the market is still heavily skewed towards ‘old, white men’. If we don’t address the problem head-on we will end up with a law company that looks exactly like a law firm with a long-standing diversity problem.

We’re doing several things to make sure we achieve our diversity goals

1. Talking about it

We take every opportunity to start discussions about diversity and what we’re doing to achieve it. We spread the message that inaction is no longer acceptable: the industry needs to do more.

I think talking about diversity will put a mirror in front of firms who aren’t doing enough, and make them realise they have to change.  It will also reinforce to their customers that they’re the people with the leverage to enforce that change. A GC of a huge global company told me recently: “When I send out an RFP I’ll receive perfectly crafted answers from firms with apparently good diversity stats and I’ll invite them to pitch.  When they arrive, the whole team looks like me (old white men). Where’s the diversity they were talking about? I can use my leverage in that moment to ensure my vendors know that I won’t accept a team that isn’t diverse.”

2. Building our tribe

It’s hard to fight against the tide of a hundred years, but it’s very rewarding; as a result, we’ve found like-minded people in law departments, law firms and law companies who are also trying to do things differently and who are energised by change. This is our tribe.

Our acquisitions last year were closely connected to helping us achieve our diversity goals.  We’ve been growing very successfully and organically, but we also wanted to build our tribe. Then one of our customers, Morgan Stanley, said they wanted to invest in Elevate with the intention that their finance would enable us to make a strategic acquisition.  Like us, they recognised the opportunity we had to bring in not only new customers and revenue, but to bring in the capability and management of people who had the same priorities we did. We initially set out to acquire one business – we ended up with five!

None of the acquisitions lost the core of their business or their leadership team.  This was a priority for us because we wanted these people on board. The acquisitions helped create a highly diverse senior leadership team, and it has enabled all of us to go global and move forward in key areas.  With new ideas and an even more diverse senior leadership team than when we started, we will hopefully keep moving further and further in the right direction.

3. The next generation

We work closely with law schools to make sure we’re talking to the next generation of lawyers.  That’s where I think real change will take place.

Although I’m practical enough to know that there’s a limited amount you can do when a firm’s male to female partner ratio is 80:20, I know we must look to the future and ensure that the next generation don’t suffer the same imbalances.  We particularly want to support under-represented groups at law school level to improve ethnic hiring in the industry. For example, we’re currently working with the Hispanic National Bar Association in the US to support law students as they start their legal careers.”

Has Elevate achieved its diversity goals?

We measure our diversity statistics very carefully, and we publish a yearly Equitability and Inclusion report to assess our progress.  I’m pleased with the results of this year’s report – we have no gender imbalance on pay – but our results still have room for improvement.  If we find an imbalance, we strive to correct it.  

We found that our associates in our India practice were predominantly male, so we asked our existing female associates about why they joined Elevate and why they thought more women weren’t joining them.  Their responses were invaluable: thanks to their feedback we could make practical changes (such as safe travel to and from home at certain times of day) that made our Indian practice a more attractive place to work for women.

Our diversity goals will always be an integral part of our business plan.  If we’re using technology to make legal work more efficient, why shouldn’t we change the way the legal industry works and encourage greater diversity at the same time?  Some firms see that approach as a competitive threat, but some see it as an opportunity. I think in the next five years we will see a dramatic shift in attitudes as the younger generation move into positions of authority.  They won’t see introducing tech as a threat – they’ll question why there aren’t technology solutions in place already. The same applies to diversity. I hope the next generation will see diversity as the norm, and won’t accept anything less.”

Becky Baker was talking to John Croft, President and Co-Founder of Elevate. For more information or comments please tweet @LTechnologist, @ElevateServices and @rebeccaJKBaker.

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