OPINION: D&I Trends in the In-House Sector

Contributed by
28 Jan 2020

The Report

In 2017 the Solicitors Regulation Authority commissioned the University of Leeds and Newcastle University Business School to produce a report analysing the diversity trends in the legal profession in England and Wales.

The report covered the entire solicitor population and identified very interesting trends when it comes to the demographic composition of in-house vs private practice.

Although in-house remains a minority of the profession, counting around 10-15% of solicitors, it attracts far more individuals from diverse backgrounds compared to private practice. In particular, the report highlights an interesting trend showing a reduction in the share of in-house male solicitors and an increase of female solicitors moving in-house. And within the female in-house population, the trend shows a clear increase of those coming from BAME backgrounds, and notably of Asian origin.

The report argues that this predominance of female solicitors in-house finds its explanation in the fact that this segment of the legal profession offers greater predictability and control over workload and schedule.

But is it that simple? Is a better work-life balance really what attracts more women to in-house roles? Whilst this is certainly one factor, we think there is more to explore as this alone would not explain why the in-house sector is more diverse not only in terms of gender but also in terms of ethnicity.

We also want to know if, despite being generally more diverse, the in-house sector presents specific challenges to inclusion that might require slightly different approaches compared to private practice.

Potential for Development

We asked Chris Fox, Chief Legal Officer and General Counsel at Kambi (a fast-growing global technology business with over 800 employees across eight international offices) whether he agreed with the assessment that work-life balance is what attracts more diverse talent to in-house roles and what trends he could spot in relation to wider diversity and inclusion issues in this space.

Chris started us off by saying that it may not necessarily be work-life balance attracting individuals to in-house careers. He told us he works longer hours now that he is in-house compared to his days in private practice and pointed out that in-house teams are often quite small, which means individuals have much more responsibility and workload.

Although the workload might not be less than in private practice, what seems to be better is the flexibility given to individuals in in-house teams. For example, Chris promotes flexible working within his team, enabling his people to fit their busy work schedules around their busy personal lives. This includes working from home, but also facilitates different hours for some team members to enable them to drop off or pick up children from school.

So, if flexibility seems to be a key selling point for in-house, especially for female solicitors, is this enough to explain the greater ethnic diversity?

For Chris, the other key selling points of the in-house sector are the ability to achieve one’s potential and develop purpose. This is closely linked to the way in-house teams are structured and, whilst the smaller size might mean a significant workload, it also means there are many more learning and development opportunities for team members.

This reality mirrors, to some extent, the fact that even looking at the private practice space, smaller practices and high street regional firms are on average more diverse than large corporate firms.

So, size seems to matter when it comes to attracting diversity as with smaller sized teams comes a greater ability to do meaningful work, develop purpose, but also to have more personal relations allowing individuals to build more flexible and agile working environments.

Getting the Culture Right

Chris is a great example of this as his key priority as a leader is, in his words, “getting the culture of the team right and ensuring everyone feels they get interesting work and can develop and enjoy coming to work”. Chris also values pro-bono work and the ability to support charities.

When you get the culture right, when you create a truly supportive, inclusive and people-centred environment, diversity follows naturally and organically, without needing to be forced artificially through targets or quotas.

Chris tells us that when he came into the company the legal team was just him and another man. In three years, he has built a team that now counts 12 individuals and is better balanced in terms of gender and ethnic diversity. Chris is very honest in saying that he was not specifically thinking of diversity when recruiting and he feels his principal driver during recruitment was a meritocratic approach. However, he does admit that as someone who values creativity and innovation, he believes that both are enhanced in a team that can benefit from diverse perspectives, experiences and backgrounds.

He also feels that expectations of individuals entering the profession are changing a lot, especially as millennials are looking much more for purpose as a key motivator of their careers, as opposed to any financial incentive.

Challenges and Opportunities

Based on our chat with Chris, whose experience resonates with many other in-house solicitors we talk to, it does seem that the greatest advantage in-house has over private practice when it comes to attracting diversity is the ability to offer greater development opportunities and a sense of purpose, combined with greater flexibility, often facilitated by the smaller size of in-house teams.

In-house, as any other sector, is not entirely free from specific challenges that impact on diversity and inclusion. According to Chris, the biggest challenge is the interplay between the culture created within the legal department and the culture of the wider organisation, which are not always in sync.

In the case of Kambi, the sports betting industry is generally very white male dominated and the majority of Kambi’s functions are correspondingly not as diverse as the legal team. Whilst this can have an impact on the experience of in-house solicitors, it also gives them an opportunity to engage with the wider sector they operate in (technology, finance, retail), to lead by example and promote the value that diversity can bring.