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Diversity on the agenda

20 April 2018. Published by James Miller, Managing Partner

The best teams are founded on diversity. And by diversity I mean diversity of thought, diversity of experience, and diversity of leadership, as much as anything else.

If ever there was a time to reflect on the importance of diversity – in all its forms – in the era of #metoo, #timesup and Gender Pay Gap, that time is now. Irrespective of whether studies show that greater diversity delivers greater performance – they do – ensuring we run balanced teams and organisations that offer equal access and equal opportunity is simply the right thing to do as human beings.

And I'm saying this as a white, male, middle-aged leader of a City law firm in the full knowledge that, as a sector, we have a very long way to go. Like other sectors, we're rightly being held accountable by our people, by the Government, and by the media. Critically, we're rightly being held accountable by our clients, too.

As clients of City law firms like RPC, those represented in the Powerlist are playing an increasingly leading role in ensuring diversity doesn't just rise up the agenda, but stays there.

What particularly struck me about the list of top-performing legal teams showcased in this year's Powerlist was also the diversity of organisations represented, from start-ups to established players; technology companies to retailers; UK-headquartered operations to sprawling global giants.

The business issues that these companies face will be many and varied. It stands to reason, then, that the greater diversity in the teams advising them the more commercially-valuable the advice they will be giving. It's about being able to consider commercial challenges from a range of viewpoints – the broader the range, the more complete the advice, and the better the end result.

And, increasingly, in-house lawyers are having a major influence on the ultimate end result: the bottom line. Over the six years we have been involved in the GC Powerlist, my perception is that the role of the in-house legal team has become progressively more critical to the successful running of businesses. The in-house lawyer has moved on from being the moral compass to becoming an indispensable business adviser to the board. A growing number are achieving that coveted seat at the table.

That's never more apparent than in a crisis situation – such as a major cyber incident – when, more often than not, the GC and her legal team are at the heart of managing the response. Caught in the maelstrom, that's no doubt a challenging place to be. But it's a significant opportunity to demonstrate commercial value, too, not least when your share price can rise or fall on the basis of the decisions you make.

So, having a strong sense of leadership and the right team around you is absolutely key. And, in my experience, balancing a shared sense of purpose with a good degree of autonomy helps to drive the high-performance culture we all strive for. But, running through it all, is communication – if you don't have open and fertile lines of communication then, at best, you'll have pockets of high-performing individuals. Great communication is fundamental to great leadership – and both are fundamental to great teams.

This publication is a list of truly great in-house legal teams. Congratulations to all of those who have been featured.