To me, Article 1 speaks to protecting the dignity of every individual – dignity is undoubtedly important to everyone, but from my perspective I see poignantly the role dignity plays in the development of young lawyers into trusted advisors and stewards who can protect the dignity of others.
Article 1 says to me that we are all born with the same handful of seeds, the same potential for greatness. I see dignity then as the soil where confidence and self-worth grows – these two learned traits are to me the absolute essential foundations for growth, both personally and professionally, and the most important things we as more senior lawyers should look to protect and nurture in the next generation of solicitors and barristers.
Protecting confidence and self-worth in our profession means recognising that each person is an individual, a creation of an endless set of diverse circumstances different from my own. People therefore add value in an endless set of diverse ways: their own way, after all, is what they have been preparing for their entire lives. Recognising this starts with leaders focusing on and celebrating the achievements of each of their juniors. This is not difficult; spreading the word if someone has excelled in a meeting, or noting to the team a person’s achievement in finishing a particularly complex or difficult project, or arriving at interesting thought or argument.
It also extends to offering flexibility in the profession – allowing employees to work more flexible schedules, to work from home or to telecommute part of the time, a simple acknowledgement that people lead different lives goes a long way in protecting the dignity of a person who likely already feels different. This type of flexibility is important not only because it reduces work-life conflict but also because it expresses the trust and confidence of the profession in that person. This trust and confidence will, I’d argue, build a sense of purpose in being a strong support of one’s profession and perhaps a healthy fearlessness in performing it, leading ultimately to a better bar and better law practice organisations.
Confidence and self-worth are not accidental side-effects. All of this takes a purposeful and meaningful focus by senior management in the workplace. And it takes time. I’d argue that the time spent developing confidence and self-worth in junior lawyers through focusing on process and involvement, as opposed to judging success on output alone, in the long run produces more efficiency in lawyers – confidence and self-worth go a long way in making young lawyers resilient enough to allow their diverse personal lives to develop freely while seeing clearly the value they are adding to their practices and clients.
Protecting dignity extends to the hiring and recruitment process for young lawyers — this means designing processes to facilitate storytelling.
If we accept that a person’s sense of confidence and self-worth is a function of their personal history, challenges and environments, then we must also accept the diversity of these two traits that comes with such a diversity of backgrounds. As employers of lawyers, we need their stories to assess their potential, otherwise we risk assessing young lawyers against who they should be and not who they could be. If we begin a lawyer’s career by dictating who they ought to be, what effect will that message have on their confidence and self-worth? Not a healthy one.
Our profession can be overly concerned about candidates ticking the ‘right’ boxes when it comes to applications: ‘have you attended a top university?’, ‘did you achieve all A grades in school?’, ‘were you captain of the sports team at university?’ and so on. Hiring on the basis of these questions can lead to recruitment of one type of talented candidate – if we want to reflect all types of talent, the recruiting strategy needs to be more varied and diverse and we should be actively seeking talent which is not naturally found through regular hiring, such as by setting up access schemes for students from low-income backgrounds or founding partnerships with schools in deprived areas.
If the legal industry does not take the time or make the effort to recruit candidates in an unbiased, fair and respectful manner they risk losing the best candidates to other professions.
Kyle Williams is managing director and senior legal counsel for the legal department of Goldman Sachs International.