John: Whilst I agree with you that the change will probably come from the law departments because you’re spending the money, do you think that’s the only way? Do you not think there’s a driver from within law firms to change?
Richard: Yes. I think change is trying to come from within. I think many people are recognizing that there is – due to Gladwellism – a tipping point coming for firms. The fact that there is such a large drop-off in diversity as you look up the traditional qualification ladder of an organization and into partnership. Firms are beginning to realize that’s not sustainable and are trying to work out why certain people don’t want to have a career as a partner and whether or not there are different career paths. This is all happening, and it’s great, and I don’t want to dismiss it by saying it’s not effective, but all of the above has to happen.
I recognize that it’s quite tough for general counsels at times to take the harder decision for the longer term themselves. We’re all facing yearly or quarterly performance targets and cost pressures now more than ever. Doing the right thing is hard. We can sometimes feel like it’s tomorrow’s necessity, and if we don’t change it today, it’ll still be there tomorrow so let’s deal with it tomorrow. This is always the problem with big, slow-burn problems; there’s never a crisis to make it happen. There’s another priority to look at today, and we’ll look at this tomorrow.
John: How do we actually go about it? There’s this old – it’s probably a cliché – you can’t manage what you don’t measure. I think an important first step in any change like this is to assess the current situation. We did that a few years ago. We were only an eight-year-old company. As the team and I sat down to talk about this – because we thought we should measure and report ourselves, even though we weren’t obliged to – I thought, “Well, gosh, we’re only eight years old.” One of the core values that we talked about when we started the business was that it would be diverse, and the group of people who started the business was diverse. I thought we’d do okay, and yet, I too was surprised to see that there were pockets within our organization that were not as diverse as I had assumed they would be. From your discussions and views around the market, what do you think a good equitability and inclusion program looks like?
Richard: The first thing that has to be understood is that it’s a journey. This is a generational change, and it will take us as long as a generation, if not more, to get to a point where we stop talking about this. We stop talking about it as something that needs doing; it just automatically happens all the time. Therefore, you have to recognize the change is incremental. It focuses on the areas where you can make a difference—not trying to do everything at once, not trying to pretend that you’re perfect.
10X is on a journey like every other company for Equitiability, Diversity & Inclusion, as we call it, to address the improvements we can make. It’s a long-term journey, and every company needs to do the same. I think that’s probably the most important thing. Secondly, we have to listen to why people don’t want to join the law or why people leave the law – leave the legal services industry – and look in on ourselves as to what we can do differently. How can we make it work so that organizationally it’s attractive?
It’s very easy to say these things as General Counsel. It’s much harder to have hardnosed conversations about making a difference. I was talking to a partner of a law firm earlier this week about resourcing future deals. They talked about one of their senior executives who works three days a week, and they quickly went on to say, “But of course it’s quite difficult to put them on a deal because they’re only here half the week.”
Well, we need to make that work. If that’s going to be a career path that’s of interest to a more diverse cross-section of society, we need to find a way to make that work; within an organizational framework, transactions can still go ahead, and we can use their resources. You’re missing out on a whole raft of people who are very good at their job, very committed, very keen to make a difference. But aren’t able or aren’t prepared – it doesn’t matter which – to put in five days a week or six days a week or whatever it is that law firms traditionally expect.
It’s incumbent upon everybody to listen and then focus on this. I was in a situation once where I hired someone, and their law firm rang me up and asked me why I’d stolen them. And I replied, “I offered a career path that they chose over the career path you were offering,” and maybe they need to think about why it is that person left. I think it’s listening to and working with people who are coming up and not assuming that just because someone has 30 years in the job, they know the answer. Change is happening, and therefore, you need to listen to those living it, listen to all generations, and work out where we can make a difference.
One of the things I’ve noticed is that the next generation of future lawyers is collaborating amongst themselves far more than any other generation ever has done before. You only have to go onto Instagram or Twitter or on the web generally to see these groups growing as they help each other understand, “How do I get a paralegal job or what opportunities are out there?” There was someone who didn’t even realize – until they found out on Instagram – that you can train as a lawyer in a legal department. They assumed you had to go to a law firm.
And you realize that it’s exciting, these opportunities are there. That groundswell of, “We will not put up with the way it is today. We will demand that change.” I think it’s a really exciting opportunity. The more general counsels, like myself, get behind that sort of momentum, we can bring pressure from above and below, as it were, which will drive the change.
John: One of the things that you did in the last six months – because we provide services to your organization – you wrote to us, and it happened to come to me, it was an email, and it called out in public the buying behaviors of the general counsel and how those behaviors impact the way law firms then deliver the work back to you.
Richard: I was at an event where I watched a very, very senior person in the legal profession – what looked to me to be having a very difficult time, not knowing which way to turn because the pressures of their clients were unrealistic. And it hit home to me that if I don’t do something, I’m part of the problem.
It comes back to my first point right at the beginning that we need to make a difference. Otherwise, we’re part of the problem, and I realize I risk being part of the problem. So, I wrote to every single person who supports 10X legal – whether they are lawyers, law companies, whatever – and said basically, “You must understand from me that your individual, number one priority has to be your own wellbeing and that it is not in my interest to drive you into the ground.” And this is a commercial point; it’s not an altruistic point. I can deal with the fact that someone says, “I know I promised you something on Tuesday next week, but it’s now Thursday, and I’m going to be a bit late. It’ll be Wednesday.”
And while that might be frustrating and all the rest of it, I can plan accordingly. What I can’t deal with is being told, “Oh, so and so’s been taken to hospital because they’ve worked themselves into the ground.” And then they’re off three weeks, four weeks, six weeks, and we have no handover, no control, and that is notwithstanding the personal impact on the individual, which is awful, and I would not want that on anybody.
The hard-nosed economics and commercial need – that’s not a good idea. It’s not me being altruistic. It is me being pragmatic for the longer term. It’s about making sure your time horizon is sufficiently long to think about what is right for the company, for the individuals.
What is interesting is the responses I got from my email, which were – I’m pleased to say – overwhelming and positive, but also sadly a number of people saying, “Could you persuade XYZ client of mine of the efficacy of what you’re telling me?” or “Can I forward it onto my other clients?” Clearly, all is not well in law land, and people need to recognize that you need to be part of the solution. Otherwise, you’re part of the problem.
John: It was very impactful to receive and being on the team that works with you. I was able to share it with our wider leadership as an example of, “Yes, stand up, be counted.” We talk about the workplace of the future. Are there examples you’ve seen working well? Are there any that you’ve seen working badly, or have there been any that have surprised you?
Richard: I think that how firms have responded has opened their eyes to the opportunities to be more open to different ways of working, and I think that a number of firms have done a good job of providing technology, providing support, helping people do their jobs effectively. There are opportunities and challenges. The opportunity is that suddenly your marketplace for recruiting is much wider. If you do not need people to be in EC2, then they don’t need to live within commuting distance of EC2 and, therefore, my database can be much larger while I’m looking to hire good talent.
The challenge is how you make sure you develop people and how you make sure that the next generation of professionals – whether it’s the law, accountancy, technology, whatever – are getting the right support and the opportunity to ask questions the right training. Law has historically been a profession taught at the feet of the expert. You sat in the partner’s office – certainly, I did as an article clerk. Even if it’s an open-plan office now, you sat near the partners, and you had the opportunity to spot when a partner was finishing something.
You’d wander over and ask them a quick question. How do you know when you can go and do that to someone remote from you? You can’t see whether they’re free. You may be quietening people who are already nervous to ask questions. What worries me is that we exclude a set of society from wanting to be in the profession because the technology or how we work is putting them off. I don’t have the answers to that, but I think the firms thinking about these things are making sure that they are finding solutions. They are providing a way in and a way to develop all types of people.
It is a challenge that we all have to face. I don’t think it’s going to be one that’s solved overnight. I think you have to recognize that people make mistakes and will make mistakes and get it wrong— people accused of being tone-deaf because they’ve misspoken or misdone it. The important thing is the intention and the purpose with which you respond to challenge and move forward.
John: I’m going to touch on a couple of things you mentioned there. One was the next generation of lawyers coming through, and the other is what can we – as white men – do to help? I was approached the other day through LinkedIn and – like everyone else that approaches me – they were a young lawyer, and they said, “I’m looking for a job. Can you help me?” I did what I always do, which is to pass them onto the right people here. In doing so, I looked through their CV, which they’d attached, I saw that they were male and had been to a private school, and they’d been to Oxbridge and yadda, yadda ya.
I was very happy to do what I could for them, but it made me think that I’ve never been approached by a young, black female wannabe lawyer from a low socio-economic background. And if I were, I would behave in the same way. What do you think we could do to crack this sort of boys’ club mentality, which I think has been part of the problem in the past?
Richard: I think the one thing I’d take the challenge with is “do the same thing” as you’d do for the traditional applicant. I think recognizing that people are different and, therefore, they need different support is a key component of this. It’s something I’ve only recently come to recognize that I need to do myself. Trying to pretend you’re blind to their differences and that you’ll treat everyone equally is, as I understand, probably the wrong answer.
To treat people with equity is to recognize their position and respond to their own individual situation accordingly. Therefore that you should not say, “Okay, that’s fine. We’d like to have you. As long as you got three As at A level and you’ve got a 2.1 or better at university, we don’t care where you’re from.” That is part of the problem. We all know that there are differences across education, and I think that recognizing that your life experience is different is critical.
I met someone recently who has almost an identical CV to myself. They went to Harvard; I went to Cambridge. They were privately educated; I was as well. He’s black, and I’m white. His life experience is incredibly different because of that. Recognizing these differences and responding to them is a critical part of allowing people to succeed in the way we want them to in the law.
John: I think it’s fair to say for anyone that’s been listening, from everything you’ve said, that you personally are leaning in and doing a great job here at your organization. How do you find colleagues behave when these topics come up? Is there anything that you, as someone who is clearly successfully pushing this topic forward, – is there anything you’ve been able to do to help bring others along who might not have done so naturally?
Richard: I think the key thing I do is try and be an ally to those who have a diverse background and recognize that my voice as a member of the executive is powerful and use it carefully and appropriately to support them. I think that – as with any society – there are always fast followers, there are early adopters, and so forth. And it is having conversations with people and moving them along the journey at a pace that they can keep up with and making the change, and that’s what we are doing at 10X.
We have an employee-led equality team. The executive is very much sponsoring this and working hard to listen to what’s asked. I’m delighted that I’m an ally of the LGBTQ+ network at 10X. I was pleased to record a short video internally to support them so that people recognize that I’m here, I can listen to their concerns, and they can bring their concerns to me. I think that’s what, as lawyers, you can do with any organization is to be recognized as someone that can be trusted to listen and recognize the challenges that some people face and help them navigate and help the organization respond appropriately.
John: Right. We’re coming to the end of our time. I was going to pick back on one of the things we mentioned earlier, which is – beyond this being the right thing to do – that one gets a better result with a diverse team of people. As business people, we’re looking for actual business impact. Is there an example you could give were a diverse group of people had delivered a better business result than a non-diverse group?
Richard: Well, for the non-diverse group example, I would take you back to the room that I sat in; I know exactly which room it was in which building, in which company’s offices I was sitting in at 1:00 in the morning. Eleven male lawyers were sitting around a table and one representative from each side of the client debating an issue. I was the article clerk – this shows how far back this goes – more money was spent debating the issue than the issue was worth from either side. When they could have just said, “Add it to the list, move on, we’re not interested in paying for it.”
When you have a diverse group of people across multiple axes, one of the things is that different perspectives are brought to bear—different experiences. The “What if?” or “What about?” questions are asked and you realize your experiences dictate your thinking. That you don’t necessarily see the issue fully, it also helps drive outcome-based thinking. What do we want to achieve as opposed to how do we win?
I’m not interested in winning. I’m interested in being successful as a business and, therefore, the negotiations need to be successful for 10X and the counterparty. There is no value in driving someone into the ground to the point at which they can’t make any money in a deal (ever), and then the behaviors will be your undoing in the medium term, if not the long term. I think that a diverse group will more likely deliver better outcomes. My experiences are to that effect.
I can’t necessarily give a specific example of the impact of a diverse group because we’d get into a whole lot of detail that, frankly, will be dull for the listener. But over my career, I have seen a number of occasions where we got a better outcome. I’ve worked across multiple jurisdictions and multiple cultures. You recognize that you need to understand what good looks like for everybody and then work out how to deliver on good rather than, “I want to win.”
John: Richard, thank you for joining us today. It’s been fascinating chatting with you. I’ve been taken with a number of specific things that you’ve been able to do. I’ve certainly made a note, and I hope others that listened will be able to so also. Thank you for joining us.
Richard: You’re very welcome. Thank you very much for having me.