Maori students and the myth of the monster law firm

by Miklos Bolza23 Mar 2016
Law firm Russell McVeagh is reaching out to attract more Maori and Pacific Islanders graduating from the legal field.
Gary McDiarmid, the firm’s CEO, said that this was part of a firm-wide diversity project launched two years ago. Initially focusing on gender diversity, the project has been expanded to include different cultures as well.
One of the main issues to overcome is that Maori and Pacific Islanders can find big law firms intimidating, he told NZ Lawyer.
“We received informal feedback that some of these students were ‘self-selecting’ out of applying for roles at corporate law firms,” McDiarmid said. “We are seen by some Maori and Pacific Islanders as large, intimidating, largely ‘white males’ and that the values may not align with their own.”
There also seems to be some gaps between how working commercial law is perceived and the reality, he added, particularly around alignment with people’s ideals and values.
McDiarmid went on to say the firm had initiated a number of programs to address these perceptions.
“We have introduced unconscious bias training for the recruitment team and partners, and are keen to encourage a more diverse range of applicants as part of our scholarship and university recruitment process.”
The firm has been working with the Maori and Pacific Island Law Students’ Associations at all major universities, holding application information sessions for students which help break down any perceived barriers for recruitment.
The feedback to these initiatives has been positive and will continue to shape the content of all future diversity initiatives, he said, adding that he hopes the firm will eventually become a working environment that is welcoming and inclusive to students from all cultures.
“Our own client-base is a diverse mix so it makes sense to recruit people that our wide range of clients can connect with. It’s about getting this message across to those considering their career options in order to attract a more diverse talent pool.”