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Deirdre Stanley and Charlotte Rushton: Advancing women in the legal industry

“When we don’t have gender balance in law in particular, it’s harder to have the buy in for the entire society, it’s harder to have the rules that are effective in governing relationships.”

Deirdre Stanley, Thomson Reuters General Counsel and Charlotte Rushton, Thomson Reuters Managing Director for Large & Mid-size Law Firms, discuss the importance of diversity and advancing women in the legal industry. 

Deirdre Stanley: I think law is special, it’s a social construct – it’s the way in which society organizes itself, it’s the rules by which we all play.

When we don’t have gender balance in law in particular, it’s harder to have the buy in for the entire society, it’s harder to have the rules that are effective in governing relationships.

Not because of ill intent, it’s because we don’t have the input from all the members of society to ensure the rules and outcomes we want reflect what it is we intended to structure. It’s important to ensure we have women in various aspects of the law, whether that’s as judges, prosecutors, public defenders, and certainly as corporate general counsel and as the in-house bar, I think it’s really critical.

Charlotte Rushton: Why is it important for General Counsels and law firms to work together?

DS: In any initiative around Womens advancement in the law, one is about pipeline, and what I mean by pipeline is, if you were to look at our in-house department at Thomson Reuters, those lawyers would likely have been trained in a large or medium law firm environment, and so a lot of the lawyers and general counsels in-house, will understand the challenges that lawyers at law firms are dealing with, whether they are up and coming or at the senior levels.


I realise and we realise that at Thomson Reuters, we’re in a unique position because we have both sides; the general counsels and law firms as our clients. So we are uniquely positioned to bring them together, that was how we started the programme.

Through the year and advancing into this year we’ve had a series of conversations, workshops for those constituents to come together to talk about what changes could really make a difference. And one of the things I really like about the programme as well is that we’ve asked each of those participants to make a commitment, so coming out of those discussions, what small or large thing are you going to do differently to really make a difference.

DS: One of the most interesting ones I found recently, which is a stick approach, was with Hewlett Packard General Counsel. What she said was –

“we’re going to have a panel of law firms that we are going to work with over the course of the year and we will tell them our expectations as to the diversity that we expect on our matters, and anyone who doesn’t meet it in the course of the year, we’ll pay you at a discount.” It’s using the power of the purse to drive these types of initiatives.

CR: And certainly getting the men involved is really important. One of the most popular events that we held last year was a males champions panel, which were men from both law firms and general counsels coming together to talk about what they thought about the issues and what they had done about it. And it was about mentoring and sponsoring and getting everybody involved.

And to your point about HP was the general counsel for Walmart was on the panel and he was talking about some of the initiatives they’ve done within Walmart. One initiative I really liked was that they had actually said,

“For their panel of law firms, if you don’t have a flexible working policy, you can no longer be on the panel.”

They gave them some time to comply with that, but I thought that was definitely the stick as well, in terms of making sure that change happens.

DS: One of the things that’s really interesting and I think we’ve seen it in the legal profession overall is-

 a lot of these initiatives that were originally discussed for the benefit of women actually end up benefiting the entire company or organization or firm.

What I was referring to as far as the ambiguity of how to be effective sometimes when you first start out as a lawyer, more open systems, more transparency of what it takes to advance, that’s good for men and women and so it helps make a healthier firm overall.


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