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Daniel Winterfeldt QC (Hon) - Founder of InterLaw Diversity Forum, Forum for US Securities Lawyers in London & Partner at Reed Smith

When I moved to London in 2000 as a senior associate for an international law firm, LGBT+ networks within the legal sector were unheard of. Compared to New York City, where I had moved from, there appeared to be significantly fewer diverse people in the workplace – even when accounting for differences in demographics.

The InterLaw Diversity Forum works to foster inclusion for all diverse talent in the legal sector by levelling the playing field to create environments where the best talent can succeed.

Having been openly gay for my entire career yet noticing a marked absence of other ‘out’ lawyers in London, I felt compelled to start a network to bring LGBT+ lawyers in London together. And so, in 2008 I founded the InterLaw Diversity Forum to foster inclusion for LGBT+ and diverse talent working in the legal sector. At the time, there was a dearth of research on diversity and inclusion available on the UK legal sector, and much of what did exist was limited to individual strands of diversity (that is, focussed solely on LGBT+, solely on women, or solely on BAME lawyers). What’s more, most qualitative research was largely dismissed as “complaining” by “non-performing” lawyers, while most quantitative research failed to provide the necessary context to allow a full understanding of the experiences of diverse talent.

To better understand what diverse individuals in the industry were going through, in 2010 the InterLaw Diversity Forum collaborated with the Law Society to publish a report on The Career Experiences of LGB Solicitors, which alongside separate reports published by the Law Society on women and ethnic minority solicitors, were collectively named The Barriers Reports. When these reports were read together, we saw more fundamental similarities than differences in the professional experiences of the three groups.

This insight was the impetus for creating an aggregate report. In 2012 - with support from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the Law Society and the Bar Council - the InterLaw Diversity Forum surveyed almost 2,000 respondents in the UK legal sector. From this data we published a new report entitled Career Progression in the Legal Sector, ground-breaking at the time in that it covered all strands of diversity and inclusion, plus social mobility.

The more diverse you are, the harder you work for less, according to the InterLaw Diversity Forum’s 2012 Career Progression in the Legal Sector Report.

The report combined hard data with respondent perceptions of their own career progression, and fairness and transparency of workplace policies and practices. It concluded that lawyers from protected classes under the Equalities Act and from disadvantaged backgrounds were working harder and earning less than their straight, white, elite-educated male counterparts. In fact, the more boxes respondents ticked with regards to diversity and social mobility, the more pronounced this disadvantage became, or ‘the harder you worked for less’. The research also showed that standard diversity and inclusion interventions were not producing the hoped-for progress, however well-intentioned, and legal employers needed to apply a different approach to allow all talent to thrive. Our key recommendations in this report were that in order to create meritocracies, law firms needed to change their cultures, adopt targets, train their leaders and address social mobility. This report is currently being updated to include new data from 2017 and 2020, with publication to take place in Autumn 2020.

In 2020, the InterLaw Diversity Forum works to foster inclusion for all diverse talent in the legal sector, and to promote meritocracy in all sectors by levelling the playing field to create environments where the best talent can succeed. We have a targeted approach providing support at the:

  • Individual level - though our LGBT+, BAME, and Disability network meetings; our InterLawConnect mentoring programme; our Purple Reign Project to raise aspirations; as well as through individual advice and support;

  • Network level - through consultations with law firms and corporates to help launch or revitalise employee network groups;

  • Employer level - through consultations with law firm management and general counsel, as well as through meetings with HR/D&I professionals; and the

  • Community level - through our charitable fundraising, having raised over £450,000 for other charities in our 12 years.

We now have more than 6,500 members and supporters from over 300 law firms and chambers, and from over 500 corporates and financial institutions.

With diverse talent encountering many of the same workplace obstacles, tackling cultural change is imperative to improving diversity and inclusion in the workplace. In 2020 we hope to harness the widespread will for change to bring about real and significant improvements throughout the legal sector.


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