Leaders in the legal sector need to do more to foster long-term CSR and ED&I in their workplace. The effects of the pandemic on the workplace and lingering ‘old’ practices and attitudes are some of the obstacles leaders have to face when promoting CSR and ED&I in their firms and companies. “The workplace has been dispersed due to the pandemic. This may be great for convenience but it is very difficult to grow corporate ED&I via video calls – ED&I does not happen by osmosis,” says Simon Caltagirone, Co-founder and Senior Solicitor at Twelve Tabulae, a London-based law firm.
In this interview, Simon talks about the importance of ED&I and CSR in the legal sector and offers advice on how to implement long-lasting practices in firms. He also discusses his philanthropy work with Astriid, a charity helping people with chronic illnesses find employment, and how leaders can find time to volunteer, despite their busy schedules.
In the past two years, many companies from all sectors have started focusing on practicing equality, diversity, and inclusion in their workplaces. Can you give us an overview of what ED&I means in the legal sector? What are some of the things you are doing in your own firm?
Simon Caltagirone: For law firms, ED&I can simply mean an investment into making ‘corporate promises’. In real terms, very little is done from the recruitment stage to long-term employee growth and support. There is no magic formula for implementation as it will depend on growth targets, structure, and the expertise available to manage ED&I.
At Twelve Tabulae, we have adopted a ‘front-loaded’ approach where we start as we mean to go on, ensuring that merit is combined with suitable adjustments due to candidate backgrounds, no matter the level of employment. We believe this is a necessary corrective to the disparities of access caused by the ever-increasing costs of higher education. For our employees, we ensure that working patterns are reasonable and common-sense based – for our lawyers with children, for instance, flexibility is paramount. We are a small and collegiate team, so ensuring that all team members feel heard and able to express their culture and identities has such a positive and immediate impact, one we look forward to seeing grow with the firm.
How has the pandemic affected the implementation and development of ED&I practices in the legal sector?
Simon Caltagirone: The workplace has been dispersed due to the pandemic. This may be great for convenience but it is very difficult to grow corporate ED&I via video calls – ED&I does not happen by osmosis. One of the most common complaints about working from home has been a sense of isolation and missing comradery, which is such an obstacle to effective ED&I. This is particularly difficult for the more junior lawyers who crave social support, particularly in training contracts. In a sense, this should have a positive enforcement effect on the value placed on ED&I through physical workplace presence.
What are the main obstacles that stand against the implementation of ED&I in the legal sector? How can these be overcome?
Simon Caltagirone: The legal sector is still dogged by old bad practices – preference to elite universities and ‘one of us’ attitudes. Some continue to believe this ensures brand endurance and certainty of growth. I think it only promotes stagnation since you are really just entrenching outdated and even offensive working cultures. Some of the large city firms are certainly feeling these effects if tribunal claims are anything to go by.
How can leaders in the legal sector practice ED&I in their daily professional lives? What challenges do they face and how can they overcome those?
Simon Caltagirone: Leaders need to set an example to ensure that key trickle-down effect. This ensures that ED&I becomes perpetual throughout the ranks of a firm, even with growth. It cannot just be a tick-box exercise for leaders. At Twelve Tabulae when we make difficult ED&I-based decisions, we show our ‘workings’ to the team and encourage debate about it. We are held accountable this way which ensures that we do not fall into the trap of chasing fees and cases at the expense of ED&I, which is the common challenge for any law firm, particularly in such unstable times due to the pandemic.
What advice do you have for leaders and managers in the legal sector who wish to implement long-term CSR policies and practices in their companies? Where should they start?
Simon Caltagirone: Leaders may wish to start with their behaviour as individuals and as lawyers. If this is done honestly, it will show where a leader has been going wrong, which is a great opportunity for building a CSR framework that directly reflects the changes in its own leaders. Future generations of leaders can then ensure that these CSR policies endure depending on their prevailing climate. If we look at general CSR policies 10 years ago versus now, the differences are stark.
Dynamic CSR policies are vital even if the corporate brand at the heart of it remains true to that of its initial founders.
This year you are taking part in the London to Torquay event for Astriid and are supporting the charity through your sponsorship. How did you learn about Astriid and what motivated you to take part in their fundraising challenge?
Simon Caltagirone: I first heard about Astriid by being invited to participate in the London to Paris Astriid challenge in 2019. I immediately researched the charity and my jaw hit the floor when I realised that they alone work without governmental support, to help those in poor health back into the workplace. I cannot think of anything more isolating and demoralising than being so unwell that I cannot work, as I feel that work gives us purpose. Supporting Astriid felt obviously necessary. Now that I am able to direct the resources of my firm towards CSR causes, Astriid is at the top of our agenda as their work assists anyone, no matter their gender, race, ethnicity, faith, age, ability, or economic background, in feeling valued again.
How do you balance your philanthropic activities with your work?
Simon Caltagirone: I do not believe philanthropy and work are mutually exclusive concepts. We have many cases at the firm that we take on at large under-value because we want to help. In doing so, we find that somewhere down the line, we are recognised for our efforts and someone is kind enough to recommend us for work that is also a good cause, but well-funded.
What advice do you have for professionals in the legal sector who would like to volunteer or fundraise for charities but can’t find the time for it?
Simon Caltagirone: Stop making excuses. If you need a wake-up call, imagine it’s one of your nearest and dearest suffering without the assistance from those in your position. If we do not act to help preserve our society, we should accept that at some point we will directly feel its shortcomings.