Completely straight-faced, CEO of Qantas, Alan Joyce, talked about being a “gay Irishman” running Australia’s national carrier. This was back in March 2016 when he was being interviewed by The Australian following the announcement that Qantas had just delivered its best first-half profit in its 95-year history. Joyce was making a statement and it wasn’t about the upcoming Sydney Mardi Gras. He was responding to the question about how he got through the dark times. Qantas’ record profit results hadn’t come easily; they followed a tumultuous period of calls for the CEO’s resignation and government talks of bailing-out the company, who in 2014 announced $252 million in losses, cuts to 5,000 jobs and the closure of flight routes.
The interviewer called the turnaround the most remarkable in Australian history and wanted to know what values Joyce relied on to get him through the period where he was being vilified and attacked from various corners. Joyce’s answer? Diversity and Inclusion. These may sound like weasel words in a business world conscious of not alienating a potential market, but according to Joyce, they had true transformative power. In Joyce’s summation, he was living, breathing proof that Qantas was a meritocratic organisation. He went on to describe the company’s diverse make-up, and more importantly, the culture of inclusion. He talked of women heading up two of Qantas’ businesses as well as the company proudly supporting gender diversity, marriage equality, and indigenous engagement programs. For this CEO, the upshot of his company’s diverse and inclusive culture was “… better strategy, better risk management, better debates and better organisational outcomes”.
Joyce noted “we have a diverse group of people that come from America, from the United States, from the UK, from New Zealand …”. Well, Qantas, many of today’s start-ups germinating and flourishing in the Asia Pacific region can go a few better! At KorumLegal for example, we also have people from Korea, Rwanda, Venezuela, Vietnam, the Philippines, Russia and Singapore to name a few. But it’s not just about having a UN-like roll call to boast about.
“NewLaw” companies, alternative legal services providers harnessing technology and a leaner, flatter business model to make legal services more accessible, are not only disrupting the traditional law services processes and delivery, they are disrupting the profession itself.
The legal profession is well overdue for not just a diversity makeover, but an overhaul, and BigLaw has long been aware of this. Yet despite the influx of graduates from a larger cross-section of society over the last few decades, and the diversity programs and initiatives championed by these firms, the profession is still marked by its white, male, middle class history and based on the ideal of a worker freed from domestic responsibilities who has the support of a partner. It is exceedingly difficult to succeed if you do not fall into that privileged group.
NewLaw represents a growing number of legal services providers in the market and this gives lawyers a compelling alternative to the traditional firm and in-house models that sadly come with - what remains - a socially closed and conservative culture.
The NewLaw business model is not based on billable time targets and a skewed hierarchical partnership structure with its attendant negative pressures on young lawyers. A NewLaw company, due to its structure and desire to be more flexible and accessible for clients, is generally more open to embracing diversity and as such, in a greater position to enjoy the fruits of those values – both on the company level as well as that of the individual lawyer.
The development of legal software has highlighted the subjective nature of legal practice and equips savvy practitioners with the tools to work more accurately and efficiently. Legal services buyers see this and are less and less prepared to pay a premium for a name. They want their legal needs met swiftly, accurately and at a reasonable, transparent price. NewLaw is answering the call and needs lawyers who can do a good job, not just ones who satisfy a circular set of selection criteria that has more to do with cultural homogeneity than relevant skills.
In the wake of International Women’s Day, it’s fitting to note the inherent tax on women who wish to pursue a family life and a legal career. A NewLaw company can open up choices beyond an unrealistic part time role or a full time, office-bound one. By enabling legal consultants to do work from wherever they have access to a computer and an internet connection, NewLaw can also help to unshackle women.
NewLaw is on the rise, competing with the established firms for interesting, complex work. In the context of the on-demand economy, companies like KorumLegal are already disrupting the profession. NewLaw has the opportunity to rewrite the rules of the game in a powerfully positive way, by making the law work environment a more open and collaborative one and by valuing and engaging the diversity of talent available. As Qantas and others have shown, that’s good for business – and can be more fun too.
Huong Tang is a Legal Consultant with KorumLegal. In a past life, she has been a commercial lawyer for an Australian telco, acted for government and worked on property development deals. When not shooting off contracts into the ether, she tries to and is currently failing to balance her new roles as expat wife, co-parent of a small human and frustrated artist reconnecting with her creative energy.