This article originally appeared in the Spring 2020 issue of Forum magazine.
Lawyers thrive on evidence and precedent. This is nearly universally true, whether one is referring to how a legal matter is handled, how the law firm runs its business operations — or, examining more intangible concepts — how a law firm successfully implements initiatives around diversity, inclusion, and equality.
This latter category represents an area where the legal industry has historically struggled. In recent years, the industry has made strides in improving awareness of the importance of diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the profession, yet concrete action remains a stumbling block for many firms. No doubt, there are myriad factors that have contributed to the lack of progress to improve diversity and inclusion. But the factor we examine here relates to the how part of implementing such change.
It’s often joked that lawyers never want to be first, but they always want to be first to be second; they want to see examples of what’s worked for someone else, then copy that model. It is with this desire for precedent in mind that General Counsel Netherlands (GCN), a professional network for general counsel and chief legal officers, began working with both corporate counsel as well as legal service providers to encourage them to become signatories to what is being called the EQUAL in LEGAL Statement, and then to become active participants in the EQUAL in LEGAL community to share their diversity and inclusion initiatives and experiences.
Forum magazine recently spoke with Petra van Hilst, co-founder of GCN, about EQUAL in LEGAL.
Forum: What is EQUAL in LEGAL all about?
Petra van Hilst: EQUAL in LEGAL is all about sharing knowledge on equality in the international legal ecosystem. We want to learn from each other, connect people and together make the world a little better. We share stories and articles on equality-related topics like Diversity and Inclusion, Pro Bono and Volunteering, Access to Justice, Talent and Education, and Sustainability. Most of all we want to do it together with all parties within the legal ecosystem — reaching out, collaborating, sharing, and connecting for a good cause.
Forum: Why these specific topics?
Petra van Hilst: All these topics are important to address in a transforming world in which the parties within the legal industry operate. Why should we reinvent the wheel ourselves if we can learn from others? For example, there are so many inspiring stories out there on pro bono matters on which lawyers worked with a lot of passion – the EQUAL in LEGAL platform gives these stories a home and a megaphone.
We also want to recognize people we’ve come to call Trailblazers. Our Trailblazers series presents portraits of global equality leaders. These are people that we can learn from and be inspired by.
Forum: When did this initiative start?
Petra van Hilst: The EQUAL in LEGAL initiative began in the Netherlands in 2019. GCN reached out to both general counsel and legal service providers and asked them to support the EQUAL in LEGAL Statement through which, the signatories give their commitment to promote diversity and inclusion within their workplace. They will then share their D&I experiences and initiatives and thereby we can all learn from each other’s actions in this important area.
Forum: Who have been some of the early supporters of the EQUAL in LEGAL Statement?
Petra van Hilst: At the moment, more than 100 general counsel of various companies and a variety of legal service providers have signed the Statement, and given their commitment to promote D&I initiatives at their workplaces and then share their experiences. We encourage parties to join and sign the EQUAL in LEGAL Statement. It’s a great way to contribute to this vital cause.
As a follow-up, GCN created and will facilitate the new EQUAL in LEGAL platform so that the entire legal ecosystem can learn and collaborate, not only on D&I issues but also on other relevant social topics. The EQUAL in LEGAL platform is international in scope and hopes to gather diverse points of view from different cultures and backgrounds within the legal global market.
Forum: Who else would you like to see participate?
Petra van Hilst: All parties within the global legal ecosystem can participate, support, and share their initiatives and knowledge on equality, whether they are from in-house legal departments, private law practices, alternative legal service providers, NGOs, academic settings or legal tech companies. This platform will enable parties to share knowledge on various topics and search for information about different locations and players within the global legal ecosystem.
Forum: What type of information are participants sharing?
Petra van Hilst: We ask them to share their story on any of the EQUAL in LEGAL topics posted on the platform. Ideally, they will share a story that involves their efforts around a previously mentioned social topic or other efforts that their company took or is taking.
The story can be something big and essential, something small and relevant, or just a practical tool or tip for others. For example, if you want to share your D&I policy because others may benefit from it, you can. If you want to share an existing pro bono story that is beneficial to others, you can. If you want to reach out and collaborate with other parties, we encourage that, too. We just ask that it not be a commercial-driven message: It needs to be genuine and true.
Overall, we’re hoping EQUAL in LEGAL will allow us to make the world a bit better together.