Rightly, there is a focus nowadays on ensuring that the workplace is inclusive and diverse. The Law Society of England and Wales treats this issue seriously and requires its committee members and chairs to undergo training. Law firms are required to publish their diversity statistics – Anderson Law’s most recently published figures are here.
An older feature of legal practice, and of other areas of professional life, is the reverence that it has for hierarchy and competitive merit. This leads to ranking and tiering. At the top of the legal tree are members of the UK Supreme Court, who are supposed to be better lawyers than in the Court of Appeal, and they in turn are better than their brethren in High Court. QCs are supposed to be more able than junior barristers and, in the traditional view, barristers are more gifted than solicitors. Experience is respected to some extent, but some lawyers are so brilliant – so high up the intellectual pecking order – that they bypass the need for judicial experience and are promoted directly to the Supreme Court, as in the case of Lord Sumption.
This elitist philosophy suggests that if you put 3 lawyers together, one is best, one is worst and one is in the middle. It is an approach with which IP Draughts is familiar. At the boarding school that his parents sent him to in the 1970s, everyone had a clearly-designated place in the hierarchy. Each term, lists were prepared putting people in order of seniority. Age and year of admission provided a starting point, but were then adjusted when a person was selected for responsibilities, eg as form captain or prefect.
Throughout the 5 years that he spent at this school, virtually every meal was taken sitting next to people who were slightly higher or slightly lower in the hierarchy. Choice of study/bedroom in the 6th form also followed this sequence. Some teachers even applied a similar system to seating in class, putting the people who scored the highest marks in exams in the back row, and following in lines down to the class dunce in the opposite, bottom corner.
This linear approach can make people very competitive – they want to be higher up the tree – and competitiveness is not, in principle, a bad thing. But the difficulty in IP Draughts’ mind is that this approach tends to look at two people and say that one is always better than the other. Perhaps this is true if you are picking prop forwards for the first XV rugby team. But in the professional world the skill-sets required are more sophisticated and complex. And the linear approach may be at odds with an inclusive and diverse approach. It is two-dimensional rather than three-dimensional.
A better approach when it comes to professional life is to identify people who meet a threshold level of competences, across several areas, and then select a variety of qualifying people, taking advantage of their different skill sets and perspectives. In IP Draughts’ view, this three-dimensional approach has more room for diversity and inclusion than a traditional hierarchy of talent and can result in a team with greater overall skills.
IP Draughts would like to see promising candidates who reach some defined, threshold standards, but are not the “finished article”, being promoted to the Supreme Court and given training and support to help them achieve very high standards. But he fears this is a step too far for an establishment that, no matter how much it agrees in principle with inclusivity and diversity, still has some deeply-embedded values that can push decision-making in a different direction.