THE LEGAL profession is waking up to the fact that it must be more representative of the communities it operates in and, crucially, more reflective of the clients it serves.

At a sector-wide level the Law Society of Scotland and Faculty of Advocates are both doing their bit to promote diversity, with both offering bursaries to those from disadvantaged backgrounds while the former has put diversity at the heart of its five-year strategy.

There is plenty that firms themselves can do too, though - just ask MacRoberts.

Under the leadership of HR director Rupa Mooker, who has been a solicitor in the firm’s employment practice since 2001, and senior marketing manager Gillian Low, the firm has launched a diversity and wellness forum to highlight the important role diversity plays within the business.

Ms Mooker and Ms Low both ‘tick’ diversity boxes in that both are female while the former also comes from an ethnic minority background and the latter, who is profoundly deaf, is classed as having a disability.

However, both are clear that for the forum to work it needs buy-in from all levels of the firm and all areas of the diversity spectrum, which is why managing partner John Macmillan is also playing a large part in driving it forward.

“We were very keen to make the forum as diverse as possible and because we all have our own personal experiences we can relate a bit more,” Ms Mooker said. “I’m not saying you have to have that in the background but it helps to a certain extent.

“John is managing partner and is on the management board and for us it definitely feels that if you want diversity and wellbeing and inclusion to work it has to come from the top. We were very keen to get that message across. John is all over this and is flying the flag for it.”

One reason for having a forum that highlights the issues involved in promoting a diverse workforce is that while some strands of diversity, such as gender and ethnicity, are obvious, others, such as sexual orientation, socio-economic background and disability, are not.

Having a forum in which the issues affecting those groups can be discussed not only gives individuals the confidence to be themselves at work but opens the firm’s eyes to what it can do to ensure its working environment is adapted to all its employees’ needs.

Ms Low, who went deaf when she was in her early 20s and now hears via two cochlear implants, said that while it took her a long time to be open about her deafness, talking about it when being interviewed for her job at MacRoberts turned out to be a positive experience.

“All disabilities have psychological issues for getting back into the workplace and it took me a lot of years to deal with my deafness mentally,” she said.

“Before my first implant on my trip to work I was a complete bag of nerves thinking ‘will I hear today? What if someone asks me a question? What if I have to take a message?’

“My hearing fluctuated so much before my operation. A year before it I was getting on a bus and the bus driver was so horrible I went home and was signed off work for four weeks.

“In my interview here I decided that I would talk about my deafness and last year when I had my second implant I needed a month off and there was so much support. When I woke up from my operation my first text message was from John Macmillan.”

While it makes sense for organisations such as law firms to reflect the diversity within the communities they serve, the forum is not just an inward-facing project but is designed to make the firm better at what it does too.

Pointing out that clients generally instruct individuals within a firm rather than firms themselves, Ms Low said having people “from different walks of life” within an organisation also ultimately leads to “better business decisions” because they are not all thinking in the same way.

That is why the firm’s recruitment process is geared up to identify not what makes people great lawyers but what makes them individuals.

“When we are recruiting, when we get people walking through the door we are going to assume they have a law degree and a degree of knowledge about the subject,” Ms Mooker said. “That’s taken as a given - it’s all the other stuff we are interested in. That’s the bit that’s important because you have to put people before clients and the public and you need to know you have a diverse range of individuals who can go out and speak to them.

“It’s not diversity for diversity’s sake – we want to retain the best talent. If you’re good to your people they will be more inclined to stay.”