In October of 2021, Burford launched the second phase of its award-winning Equity Project, which has as its centerpiece a $100 million pool of legal finance capital to back commercial litigation and arbitration led by female and racially diverse lawyers as well as a commitment to share a portion of profits with charities focused on the advancement of historically underrepresented lawyers upon the successful resolution of Equity Project backed matters.
In January 2022, two of the legal and business leaders who support The Equity Project as Champions shared their perspective on how legal departments and law firms can continue to promote diversity, equity and inclusion. Their answers are gathered in edited form below.
There’s clearly a near universal desire for more diversity in law, but progress hasn’t kept pace with intentions. What myths persist attempting to explain this lack of progress? What can law firms and in-house legal departments do to actively address and dispel these myths?
Maria Eugenia Ramirez: Some of these myths include the belief that diversity and inclusion is simply about morality and ethics, that diversity and inclusion is only about gender and race (and nothing else), and that acquiring more diversity in law will just result in the exclusion of white people/white men. Diversity today means so much more than the myths described above. Diversity excludes no one, and it requires everyone’s participation in order to truly “make it happen”. Law firms need to set a consistent strategy to promote diversity as a true firm policy and keep track of its implementation. Law firms should also educate their people by offering diversity and inclusion trainings, conferences and lectures and participate in certifications such as the Mansfield Rule.
Daniel Winterfeldt: We need to break down the myth that what we are currently doing in the legal sector around diversity, equity and inclusion is even close to the mark. Over time there has been an emergence of more and more diversity, equity and inclusion activities such as sponsorships, pro bono projects, corporate social responsibility programs, awards, lists, et cetera. We need to remind ourselves that our core diversity, equity and inclusion activities should focus on the recruitment, retention, and promotion of diverse talent.
Which do you see as the bigger challenge: Retaining diverse talent or recruiting diverse talent?
Maria Eugenia Ramirez: Retaining diverse talent is a much bigger challenge. Law firms in the US are typically able to recruit diverse talent, but as the years go by and the attorneys become more senior, it is harder to retain them. There is no one single reason as to why this happens; it is a result of a combination of factors. For example, some of these individuals may become disenchanted about a career in law, they may perceive that there is a lack of diverse role models in the firm’s management, or they may believe they were initially employed as “token diversity hires”, but see no future or continued growth within the firm.
Daniel Winterfeldt: The largest challenge is to retain diverse talent. Many have spent time and made significant progress on recruiting diverse talent, but without accompanying this with cultural change to create inclusive organizations where diverse talent can thrive, these efforts will not yield long term change in the profession.
In-house lawyers haven’t always felt comfortable asking their panel law firms for their diversity data. Do you see that changing with so many companies prioritizing diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, and if so, how should they use this data?
Daniel Winterfeldt: We are working hard at the InterLaw Diversity Forum to transform this in the UK through launching the UK Model Diversity Survey (based off the ABA’s Model Diversity Survey, which is now in its fourth year) with support of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), Microsoft, and others. This initiative is a supplier diversity program where client signatories ask for law firm participants to fill out an annual, intersectional, and multi-strand diversity, equity and inclusion survey into a system that produces reports using a Microsoft reporting tool. We now have over 30 client signatories and over 50 law firm participants onboarded or in the process of onboarding. We believe a focus on clear and transparent data will create better collaboration between clients and law firms in this space, as well as re-focus diversity, equity and inclusion efforts to unlock meaningful, long term change in this space.
Maria Eugenia Ramirez: Over the past few years, law firms have seen a growing trend where clients specifically ask firms for diversity data. Many clients are also mandating that their legal teams be composed of a certain number of diverse lawyers, refusing to work with firms that merely include diverse attorneys to win a pitch, but not to actually work on the matter. Asking law firms for their diversity data is important and necessary, not only because it brings awareness, but because it increases accountability in the workplace.
What are law firms and companies doing that shows real innovation in tackling the diversity problem in law?
Daniel Winterfeldt: The UK Model Diversity Survey is the single most important project we have been working on for diversity, equity and inclusion in the UK, alongside our recently published research report, Career Progression in the UK Legal Sector 2021, sponsored by the SRA, covering diversity, equity and inclusion and social mobility, with data from over 1,100 lawyers in 2020 and over 1,400 lawyers in 2018.
Maria Eugenia Ramirez: In this day and age, law firms that fail to recognize and prioritize diversity and inclusion will be left behind. As a result, many law firms have set certain goals with respect to how much diverse talent they need to have in their ranks or in strategic positions of management within the firm. Others have set diversity mentoring programs where junior lawyers are paired with senior diverse lawyers who have moved through the ranks within the firm, while other law firms have chosen total transparency with respect to discussing (internally or externally) the diversity challenges that they encounter on a day-to-day basis.
Daniel Winterfeldt MBE QC (Hon) is a Managing Director and the General Counsel for EMEA and Asia at Jefferies, and has over 22 years of experience as a corporate and securities lawyer in London and New York. In 2008, he founded the InterLaw Diversity Forum to promote meritocracy and inclusion for all diverse and socially disadvantaged groups in the legal sector. It has 8,500 members from 300 law firms and chambers and 500 corporates and financial institutions.
Maria Eugenia Ramirez is a partner at Hogan Lovells with a practice focused on international arbitration. She has represented clients in contract, construction and telecommunications disputes. She is among Latin American’s Top 100 Female Lawyers by Latinvex and has been ranked in Chambers Global, Dispute Resolution and Litigation. She received the Daily Business Review's Most Effective Lawyers—Pro Bono Award in 2007.
Alyx Pattison is a Vice President who works with US-based law firms and companies. Prior to joining Burford, she was the founder and President of a political consulting business with a focus on providing legal and compliance advice to congressional campaigns, and for more than a decade was a litigator at AmLaw 100 law firms.