Without mentioning your job title, how would you describe what it is you do now?
I advise clients on the impact the laws within my specialism have operationally for them. At core, I’m a contract lawyer for regulated industries, and for privacy, all industries are regulated. That means we have a broad sweep of clients, and keeps the role interesting.
What was your main driver to enter the legal industry?
I’m not sure I had clear one to start with. It sounded like a challenging job, we didn’t have lawyers in the family, perhaps I was influenced by TV shows in which the lawyers always had very swanky offices and a glamourous time, while seeming to do only human rights cases. As I type this in my spare room slash home office, that raises a smile. The profession has been good to me though, both in terms of what I’ve learned, and the deep and lasting relationships it has given me.
It helps a lot to try to work with people who are a little brighter than you, certainly at the start of your career. My son calls this “levelling up” in PC gaming parlance, you then get to that level and increase your skills and start to feel more comfortable at that level. I was lucky to work with great people (mostly!) and to have particular ones, at particular phases, nudge my career onward. Now they would probably call that “mentoring” and I try to do a lot of that myself, especially for women. Giving someone at the start of their career a half hour of your time is something one should never be too busy for. It is a privilege to be asked to cast an eye over someone’s CV or give them a steer.
What are the first three words you think of when you hear the word ‘diversity’?
Fairness, equity, social.
What do you think it will take to develop truly diverse thinking within the legal industry?
I should probably not say this, but here goes. It will take firms honestly, and in a clear eyed way, observing whether their firm not just actively assists women and minority lawyers. It must go much further. There can be a lack of barriers for average men. There, I said it! We all need to counter that. If a firm genuinely considers it has an issue, it should seek specialist outside help, to assess both biases, and barriers. Clients are playing a huge role in this and will continue to more and more. Many clients who are inhouse counsel have been in law firms, so they are not to be fooled with brochures and surveys. They observe keenly which firms are giving time and effort to meaningful diversity endeavours, and they see through virtue-signalling very quickly. I think it will take sustained efforts by both firms and their clients, over many years. However I optimistic about the future because these are conversations we were not having 20 years ago. As people move over and back between law firms and industry and wider types of careers and studies, this will help bring fresh thinking to the table. If our organisations don’t reflect the wider society that will impact on our output of work (narrow perspectives) and there is a clear profitability link with genuine diversity. Leaving aside that it is the right thing to do, firms will inevitably listen to that and will observe it in their competitors too.
Jeanne is a Senior Partner at LK Shields LLP, Dublin, Ireland.