Raising the Bar on Diversity and Inclusion

This conversation features solicitors Lynne and Babs from Jamieson Law. Lynne and Babs talked about the reasons behind establishing a legal practice in the context of the ongoing diversity and inclusion challenges in the wider profession.

I met Lynne and Babs because I was looking for a legal practice to help me develop some template agreements in my own business. My first observation was that when I went on their ‘About’ page on the website, I noticed that it was a firm that was made up of women. I was interested in why that was the case and it turned out there was a diversity and inclusion story behind setting up the firm.

We started with me asking Lynne to tell me a bit more about herself and her background.

‘Absolutely. I am a solicitor qualified in Scotland, qualified long enough to forget for how many years now! About fourteen or fifteen years, I think. I have always been based in Edinburgh, working predominantly with major and more traditional law firms. I had been with the larger UK firms for pretty much my entire career and that’s where I met Babs.

When Babs set up the firm a few years ago, she suggested to me that I perhaps I’d come and work with her because she was starting out on this amazing, new and exciting adventure. It took me a little while to leave my comfort zone, but it’s certainly the best thing I ever did. We’ve been working together for about a year now.’

I then posed the same question to Babs, as well as asking why she set up the business? 

‘So, I trained and qualified in the big firms. Lynne was my supervisor when I was a trainee. That’s how we met and became friends. I originally qualified into financial services and regulation, which is a lot more narrow than the work I do now. Then I worked as an in-house solicitor within a company. I worked within an investment management company for a while, came back out, tried the whole private practice game again, thought that maybe it had changed a bit, realised it hadn’t changed at all and left that and thought, “I don’t really know what I want to do, but I know that it’s not in that big law firm world.”

I freelanced for a bit, working for small businesses and startups mainly through various online legal firms. I did that for a few years and then realised, “Hey, this is something I could do by myself.” There were lots of things I wanted to change about how it was being done in the big law firm world and also in the online law firm world too. So, I thought, I’ll just give this a go.

When I set up myself, I certainly didn’t expect it to go as well as it has. I didn’t expect to be having to phone Lynne saying, “We’ve so much work. Would you please come and help?” I set it up because I wanted to work for myself. I thought I might have one other person who wouldn’t be a lawyer and that was fine. But over the last couple of years, it’s gone really, really well. Things have progressed very nicely and we now have a team of five.’

I was interested to find out from Babs, what her experience was working in the legal sector, particularly with those big companies. 

‘Everyone talks about lawyers working long, stressful hours. I have to say maybe with some different areas of law aside, that is consistent and regardless of whether you’re in a big law firm, a small law firm or a tiny little law firm, like us. Your job is stressful. It’s long hours and client demands can be outside the nine to five. Having said that it’s a very rewarding and fulfilling job because of that. You’re in it with the client all the time and it’s a bit of an adrenaline rush, really. That’s the same regardless of where you are. 

Where it’s different is definitely the culture and ethos. How people are treated at various stages in the game and based on their backgrounds. When I was in the bigger firms, what I found, and I’m sure Lynne can add to this as well, was the attitude that females will do certain jobs and males will do other jobs.

Whether that is running out and getting the tea in the middle of a client meeting, something that the male trainee would never have been asked to do, but the female trainee would, or things like pay raises coming a lot easier to men it seemed than women. Then other issues like if a woman’s stressed, she’s described as emotional, but if a man’s stressed, he’s passionate.’

Lynne said, ‘I would certainly agree with everything that Babs said. I’ve got a slightly different perspective because I’m a working mum and I’ve got three young kids. My oldest is ten and my youngest is three. I’ve gone through the last decade trying to juggle working and being a mum at the same time. That’s definitely not easy. I would say that the legal profession is still one of those sectors whereby if you decide to have children, it’s assumed that you’ve almost given up on any aspirations for progressing career-wise.

COVID changed everything but it was always long hours with an expectation of presenteeism. For what Babs and I are doing, I’m not going to lie we work pretty awful hours quite a lot of the time, but we’re at home and if I need to take one of my children to the dentist at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, I can do that. Whereas before it was almost a guilty feeling if you ever had to do anything. If you ever had to step away from your desk for ten minutes to do anything like that, I could feel the eyes watching me leave the room. Just the thought, oh my God, it was awful. 

Whereas I would certainly not say I’m working any less, but I don’t feel guilty about the fact that I can say, I just need to nip out for half an hour because my child’s got a doctor’s appointment. That’s still prevalent in the more traditional firms I would say, which just makes it so much harder for women. It’s assumed we’re not giving everything, the full 100% to the job, which is kind to what’s expected.’

Lynne’s experience is sadly one I’ve heard before and it led into my next question for Babs. I was interested in hearing more about why she wanted to do business differently and how that looks in her own firm? 

‘There were several factors really. From the client perspective, I just didn’t like the way traditional law firms treated clients. If they didn’t have their name on a massive office in London or New York and have millions of pounds in the bank they were not important to the bigger firms. Everything we do now is fixed fee. We’re very transparent on costs. That’s something that isn’t prevalent in the bigger firms. 

I feel that if even smaller clients are taken seriously and treated well by law firms, they often can’t afford to pay for the privilege anyway. So, I wanted to make that more accessible. I think that’s what we’ve done. I also think there’s this awful stereotype with lawyers that we’ve all heard about where we’re all just seen as money grabbers, we speak in jargon, we’re intimidating know it alls and all these awful things. I wanted to be the exact opposite from that. It stemmed from a comment when I worked in-house that I heard one of the business colleagues say. They said, “The good thing about Babs is she just tells me what I’m meant to do when I’m meant to do it. And I understand what she’s saying. We’ve not had a lawyer where I’ve understood what they’re saying before.” 

I thought well that seems to be my superpower. Everyone has a superpower in their profession and mine seems to be to make everything plain and simple. I thought this business is a really good way to make the most of that. 

On the other side, I also wanted flexibility and my freedom. I couldn’t bear the presenteeism and sitting at the desk and feeling bad because I wanted to get up at 9 o’clock at night. Like how dare I? It wasn’t that I was shirking long hours because I quite enjoy, as strange as it is, working the longer hours. But I wanted to be doing it for a purpose that meant something. Not because I was terrified of the partner I was working for or because I felt like I might be judged if I didn’t do it. I think it’s impossible to say that people aren’t working hard if they’re not chained to the desks. I think everybody just does it in different ways. And I wanted to do it in a different way.’

I left big companies and decided to set up my own diversity and inclusion consultancy partly for similar reasons. I’ve worked in organisations where I haven’t necessarily felt included or that I belonged because of the disability that I’ve got. That was certainly one of the motivating factors of leaving an organisation and setting up my own business. A lot of disabled people set up their own businesses, because there are all sorts of challenges and barriers of getting into employment or progressing within employment. 

I suppose the flip side to it is that those organisations that Babs and Lynne were working for have really lost out on having their great talent within the business. 

Babs agreed. ‘There was somebody in one of the departments I worked with the firm that I started out with, who made a comment that came through in my review that I still remember. It was ten years ago now, and I still remember it distinctly. And it was, “She’s too happy for this environment.”

She’s too happy for this environment.” Honestly, I would walk into office and I’d be like, “Morning,” and people would honestly look at you like you were strange.

And I thought, “My God, if I have to change my personality in order to do well in this firm, then I just don’t think this firm is meant for me.”

When Babs told us that, it made me feel angry. Two things also came to mind. One was that I do a quiz with some of my clients and one of the questions is, “Do you feel like you have to change your personality to fit in on a scale?” The other thing that came to mind was that I remember in one of my first jobs after university, in my appraisal, I was described as being too nice. What’s wrong with being nice in the business world? I don’t know, maybe they had this expectation that I was going to be some dickhead, like you see on “Suits” the TV show, where you have to walk around in your power suit, being a twat.

Babs said, ‘I was talking to someone about this today. When you’re a client and you’re deciding which lawyer you should work with it, it really should be like the tone that represents your business. Because, yes, we could all walk around being dickheads and be absolute sharks of lawyers. But those are often also the lawyers that can’t get a contract over the line for a client because they’re too busy arguing about where the semi-colon should be. I just couldn’t spend my life in that very hyper-masculine world that I just didn’t belong in.’

Babs set up the business with what sounds like quite a gender focus for diversity. Now that the business is growing and developing, I suppose it’s brought into view other types of diversity to consider in the organisation. I asked Lynne for her thoughts around other aspects of diversity as the business is blossoming.

Lynne replied, ‘Well one thing I would say is that although we are a firm of all women, I don’t think that was ever Babs’ plan. It seems to have been a happy accident to be honest. I think just going back to the struggles that a lot of women do have in bigger law firms is that you see where there’s definitely that glass ceiling for women still. I think that’s why we decided to start working together because we’re annoyed about that and want to try and change it. We’re not man-bashing or anything. 

I think it’s important in terms of the business growing and flourishing that we do become diverse. I mean, it’s great that in terms of location and things like that, there’s no barriers there either. Babs is in Ireland. I’m in Scotland. Our other solicitor is in London. So, you know, we’re all over the place. Things like that, that are making things a lot easier to branch out and have no restrictions in terms of anyone that could join the team if we were looking for extra help essentially.

I guess it does mean that everything is a little bit more accessible to people if we have working mums, or working dads, there is a lot more flexibility there.’ 

Babs added ‘Whenever we’ve been talking about our plans, the future, I’m like, “Oh, I’m quite tired. Let’s just see where we are.” And Lynne’s like, “Let’s do this, this and this.” 

I guess it’s what Lynne said. It was never the intention to make things much easier and more comfortable and accessible for women or people who are looking after kids, looking after households, that kind of thing. It has just, as Lynne said, been a happy surprise that it’s all women. 

The problem that we have is that we are a small firm. There’s five of us. We are looking to grow according to Lynne, we are looking to grow and then absolutely diversity needs to be a consideration and not just gender but different backgrounds. We have an intern that’s with us for twelve weeks just now. That’s a programme that we participated in that basically allows young people with law degrees that come from maybe quite deprived backgrounds where they don’t necessarily have the same opportunities to go and work with a firm to bolster their CV. That means at each stage of the game, they’re being pushed further and further down the line. We have a student just now that’s come from that programme. We’re looking to do more of those things going forward. We will be hiring probably within the next year or so, and definitely need to be more diverse in terms of culture, background, race, gender, disabilities, all of those things.’

It’s great to hear that Lynne and Babs are getting involved in those schemes. My smallest client employs ten people. One thing that we’ve realised is that you don’t need to be a big multinational company to have a diversity and inclusion plan in place. And you don’t have to have like excessively massive budgets either. In fact, sometimes it’s easier as a small business to do some simple things to be attractive and attract diverse talent. Also, you don’t have to have really long-winded recruitment processes rife with systemic bias. You can do some really cool stuff as a small business to get diverse talent into the business.’

Babs agreed. ‘I think we are able to be a lot more flexible and agile than bigger firms and not just in hiring. Maybe this is generalising, but bigger firms spend an awful lot of money to see that they’re inclusive and they spend thousands on a policy to tick a box. That’s not what we’re trying to do here.’

Babs is right, there’s a lot of window dressing going on, just thinking about the number of companies that changed their logo to be the LGBT rainbow colors during Pride month. But then the reality for their staff is that they’re still not particularly inclusive of those LGBT staff. That’s something that we call the rhetoric gap and we had that conversation in a podcast interview with Sally Bucknell who is Head of Diversity and Inclusion at EY. That’s an episode worth checking out. 

Before we finished our conversation, I asked both my guests ‘What does inclusive growth mean to you?’ 

Babs said, ‘I guess for me, inclusive growth is growing the company as we have been, but probably broadening our horizons a little. We’ve been so desperate to hire in the past when we’ve so needed somebody so quickly that it’s been the first good person that’s come along really. Or people that we’ve known as well, which ultimately means that the people we are going to come across are from the same background and, as we’ve seen, the same gender. We probably need to be a bit more forward thinking and strategic in how we’re recruiting, going forward to make sure that we have a diverse pool of people that we’re choosing from. Things are definitely going to need to be a bit more formalised going forward. We are a very young company, but I do recognise that. I think just making, continuing to make and keep the business accessible for everyone, regardless of whether they want to work long hours or whether they don’t, whether they have kids, whether they don’t, just allowing it to be flexible for people as we’re moving forward.’

Lynne agreed. ‘I think like Babs said, when Babs asked me to join her, it was very much of, you know, she started this business on her own and it was her baby and she needed somebody that she could trust and she already knew to help her. I was very privileged that she chose me to be that person. But I think now that we’ve got things a bit more under control and we’ve grown a bit more, just like Babs said, we could now look more forward and look into new pools of talent and people that aren’t just “Have you worked with that person. Are they okay?” You know that sort of thing. 

Inclusive growth opens up a lot more doors for us and I think that’s really important to tap into all of those pools that we’ve not used before. I think we have a great opportunity to do that, being a remote first company, as we touched on before. There are no limitations there for us in terms of who they are, where they’re based, you know, all those things.’

To find out more about the firm, head over to Jamieson Law where you’ll find all the information you need about the services offered, how the services are provided, how charges work and so on. You can also get in touch through the general info email address on the website. Lynne and Babs are happy to help with any questions and get back to you with any information that you need.

Raising the Bar on Diversity and Inclusion - Mildon