Creating and implementing a diversity and inclusion strategy for the law firm – IBA Annual Conference Paris, 31 October 2023

Friday 12 January 2024

Annalise Papa 

Ganado Advocates, Malta; Secretary, European Regional Forum 


Birgitta Van Itterbeek 


Ariga, Belgium



Pavla Prikrylova PETERKA & PARTNERS, Prague; Vice Chair, Diversity and Inclusion Group, European Regional Forum

Antonia Verna Portolano Cavallo, Milan

Antonia Verna and Pavla Prikrylova presented the European Regional Forum Diversity & Inclusion Working Party with the Diversity and Inclusion Toolkit for Lawyers (with slides). The Toolkit is part of a 2020 IBA commitment towards Diversity and Inclusion (D&I). The European Regional Forum took the lead for the drafting of the Toolkit with the support of the IBA Diversity and Inclusion Council. The first draft was first presented in Miami. The mission was to have this Toolkit used on a worldwide basis. Following a survey and the expert input of Andrea Dermody, the Toolkit has been adapted accordingly and is now launched at the IBA Annual Conference in Paris. The global aim is to tackle discrimination and promote inclusion.

First Part

Moderator: Delia Mensitieri  Nitrodi Consulting, Brussels

Speaker 1: Andrea Dermody  DERMODY, Dublin

Speaker 2: Remy Choo  RCL Chambers Law Corporation, Singapore; Co-Vice Chair, LGBTQI+ Law Committee

Q1: Why D&I policies of law firms are important to clients and society at large? Why has the Toolkit been created?

  • There is much talk about regarding D&I, but many law firms lack structure and strategy – the Toolkit gives a structure to help law firms in thinking about their strategy;
  • the D&I plan of a law firm enhances team cohesiveness and, as such, improves the business development of a law firm – clients expect this;
  • the Toolkit also always firms to do risk analysis and awareness for example in case of illegality (LGBTI+ risks); and
  • the D&I toolkit also allows management of risk.

Q2: understand the local context: regulation – culture:

  • what are the challenges? Which actions can you take?

Q3: how is the toolkit structured?

  •  Section 1: process how to develop a plan.
  • Section 2: how do you monitor the plan?
  • Section 3: practical advice and ideas – going through the life cycle of a lawyer/employee.

Q4: are there any practical tips?

  • There needs to be a management level sponsor – the D&I plan without management by-in is a dead document; and
  • a law firm must verify which benefits can be given even if it is not provided by law, such as specific paternity or maternity leave.

Second Part

Moderator: Delia Mensitieri  Nitrodi Consulting, Brussels

Speaker 1: Ama Ocansey  Head of Diversity & Inclusion, BNP, London 

Speaker 2: Steeves Bujold  President, Canadian Bar Association; McCarthy Tétrault LLP, Montréal, Québec; Website Officer, LGBTQI+ Law Committee

Q1: the role of bar associations

Bar associations should take a leading role. Toolkits are required, but the bar association has to show leadership and provide the example. For example, the Canadian bar has taken a leading role in promoting women and indigenous people.

It is essential that law firms take a holistic view. They must understand the culture of the country they serve – a law firm must represent its clients not only in law. Diverse teams lead to better decisions and a greater understanding of client interests.

Q2: how can bar associations help law firms in having a more nuanced view?

Bar associations must promote a holistic approach. For example, law firms must consider client wishes for D&I policies. Many clients have strong D&I policies and expect this from their law firms. Clients can help law firms.

Q3: How can we make sure it does not simply remain a compliance issue? How do we deliver?

  • Management by-in is essential. It has to be sponsored by management
  • training has to be provided on bias
  • listen to minorities, your employees and create a safe working environment;
  • support line managers and explain how a diverse business is sustainable; and
  • remember small changes lead to big changes!

Take aways:

  • D&I plan needs to be supported and promoted by management;
  • law firms need to take a holistic approach and look at the culture of their own country as well as that of their clients; and
  • D&I policies will enhance cooperation and business.

Tips and Tricks from the working groups:

  • each region and jurisdiction has to consider how to implement the toolkit in their own environment;
  • having a good D&I plan helps law firms in the war for talent;
  • always have a management sponsor and cultural game keeper;
  • promote more flexible working, such as paternity leave; and 
  • diversity cannot be created without inclusion. There is, for the inclusion part, still a big task ahead, especially for large firms – even with robust programmes they still do not match the challenges.

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