Fostering diversity in the legal profession

By Patricia Wick Christias, Assistant General Counsel and Head of Legal at Microsoft UK

I am proud to announce the results of our Law Firm Diversity Programme for 2021, recognizing the accomplishments, progress and commitments of our law firm partners to create more diverse and inclusive organisations.

In 2020, we launched the Law Firm Diversity Programme (LFDP) in the UK building on the existing LFDP that began in 2008 in the US (which recently announced its own US LFDP 2021 results). The goal of the LFDP is to support our law firm partners to make progress in diversifying their workforce and recognise them for so doing. After our pilot year in 2020, we invited all firms that do substantial work for Microsoft in the UK to join and we also allocated incentives specifically focused on advancing representation of Black/Black British and Asian/Asian British or Mixed/Multiple ethnic group partners in law firm leadership. We are excited to announce the Top Performer and the Most Innovative Firm among our eight participating UK firms in 2021.

Top Performing Firm:

We are proud to announce CMS as this year’s Microsoft UK LFDP Top Performer. CMS met seven of our eight diversity targets. The number of hours that diverse employees from CMS spent on Microsoft matters increased 12%, reaching an impressive 63.1%. Overall diversity of CMS’ Management Committee also saw an increase of 7.7%, to meet the target of 50% diverse. Women’s Partners and Minority Partners saw growth of 2.4% and 1.4% respectively, which is promising progress. The diversity of CMS’ Partners increased by 3% to 41.7%. These highlights emphasise the critical achievements that CMS is making in diverse representation and is a great example to other organisations/firms who are also aspiring to diversify.

Clive Gringras, Microsoft’s client relationship partner and Head of Technology, Media and Telecommunications at CMS, comments: “We are delighted to be the top performer in diversity against such great competitors. Massive credit goes to the superb and diverse lawyers at CMS who devote themselves to providing high quality advice – especially during this most challenging of times. And huge gratitude goes to Microsoft for bringing a data-driven approach to this Programme; it challenges us to be more deliberate in choosing the most diverse team possible.”

Most Innovative Law Firm:

This is voted for anonymously by the participating partner firms themselves. They answer two questions:

  1. What innovative and impactful diversity and inclusion activities have you undertaken to advance diversity and how do you measure success?
  2. What improvements are you planning for the next year?

The answers to these questions are anonymised and given to all partner firms to choose the best submission for each question. The winner of the “Most Innovative Firm” Award this year was a tie between CMS and Reed Smith.

The initiatives shared by all the firms are attached below, but here are two of the outstanding approaches from Reed Smith and CMS.

Reed Smith – Racial Equity Action Plan (REAP)

In August 2020, Reed Smith announced the formation of its Racial Equity Task Force, chaired by its Managing Partner, to implement REAP, which Reed Smith explains as: “Recruiting: 50% increase of Black lawyers across Reed Smith by 2024. Retention: Improve Black lawyer and staff attrition rates consistent with firmwide attrition rate by 2024. Leadership: Increase percentage of Black leadership in the firm by 30% by 2024. Expanded engagement with clients to uncover opportunities for Black lawyer development: Client involvement in the execution of the REAP is an area of utmost importance too. Pro bono projects designed to positively impact the Black community: We have committed to provide more pro bono legal services to projects in the UK/Europe that move the needle on racial equity issues.”

CMS – ethnic minorities

CMS says: “Representation of ethnic minorities has been our biggest challenge. For early talent acquisition, we have set a target of attracting 35% applications from ethnically diverse applicants by 2023, with the principle of ‘proportionality’ applying to the selection process thereafter, all the way through to offer stage, which should then result in 35% of our offers being to these candidates. The target is specifically set at the beginning or attraction stage of the process, rather than at the end of the process, the offer stage. This mitigates the risk of positive discrimination. Our current offer rate is just below 30%.

“To ensure progression of ethnic minority talent across the firm, we are planning to launch in 2022 a two-year pilot programme for ethnically diverse senior associates, including an opportunity to access coaching and mentoring, and to work with a ‘sponsor partner’, with the aim of ensuring that these associates fulfil their potential at the firm. All sponsor partners will receive training to support them in this role.”


A Clear Opportunity for 2022 – Financial Bonus Announced

Despite this great work, there is plenty of room for improvement in 2022. Though the data shows an upward trend in growth of women partners, committee composition and partner composition, it reveals minimal or even negative progress for minority partners, Black/Black British partners, Asian/Asian British partners, Mixed Multiple partners, as well as both partner and attorney hours.  To bring even sharper focus to the opportunity ahead to create a more diverse and inclusive legal profession in the UK, we are pleased to announce that for 2022 Microsoft will:

  • introduce a financial bonus for those participating firms who achieve our 2022 diversity targets. All participating firms will be eligible to earn a bonus of up to 3% on their annual fees for meeting the targets that we set
  • publicly recognize any of our UK partner firms who meet 100% of the diversity goals we set
  • retire the “most innovative firm” award in favour of launching a survey of our UK partner firms to report on the investments they are making in infrastructure that promotes a more inclusive environment, such as having dedicated D&I committees, strategic plan, training and development/mentoring for diverse attorneys
  • add a social mobility target
  • increase our targets for of Black/Black British and Asian/Asian British or Mixed/Multiple ethnic group partner growth, committee growth, women’s partner growth and minority partner growth

In launching the LFDP in the UK, it has been clear to us that even merely gathering diversity data helps our firms to look again at their firm’s talent and identify areas where they can improve their diversity. By means of this next evolution for 2022, setting new targets and deepening our commitment by now offering a financial bonus, we aim to encourage our partner firms to look even deeper at their staff compositions and surface their key opportunities for diversity growth. We will keep these initiatives under review and very much believe that this is an iterative and learning process.

We’d like to thank all our partner firms for helping to make it another successful year for LFDP and look forward to working with you all again in FY22.