Taking Diversity in Legal Seriously - Legal Disrupters

Katie Passley (Senior Solicitor at EY) and Steven John (DEI Lead & Head of Customer Success at Summize) talk about DEI in the legal industry.
October 7, 2022
Last updated:
October 7, 2022

Legal, tech, business, AI.

The report says take-up of the technology across England and Wales is incredibly high, with around half of lawyers surveyed reporting they are already using AI technology.

People just don't realise there's an entire new world emerging full of clever, new tech that's going to revolutionise the way we do business. The role of the lawyer in particular is changing dramatically.

This is Legal Disruptors, powered by Summize. Digital contracting, done differently.

Graeme Smith

This week, a bit of a DEI theme on Legal Disruptors, episode five, as we talk to Katie Passley, a senior solicitor from EY and diversity and inclusion ambassador.

She's talking with Steven John, the head of customer success for Summize in the company DEI lead, about how Katie's mixed ethnicity family were the subject of a terrifying, violent, racially motivated attack and how organisations can reap benefits from being more inclusive.

Katie and Stephen got together for a chat on the second anniversary of the death of George Floyd in the US, which gave their talk even more poignance.

Coming up on legal disruptors.

Steven John

Well, the thing I still don't get, is even if executives can't figure it out on a social level, it still impacts the bottom line. There's many, many reports out from all of the various agencies and business reporting companies that will tell you that diverse teams make better outcomes.

Katie Passley

And I thought, thank goodness for that, he's gone. And then the next minute, he was waiting for us around the corner. And then what happened was probably the worst hour of my life. He tried to force us off the road.

Legal. Tech. Business. AI. This is Legal Disruptors news.

Graeme Smith

Meaningful DEI work has become essential post COVID, according to the CEO of a diversity consulting company reported via the Press Association this week. Matt Sawry is quoted as saying Getting added perspective from a more diverse group of people makes a more comprehensive problem-solving set.

This theme is becoming the basis of modern DEI responses across multiple sectors; the business arguments being utilised for a more diverse workforce alongside the more hearts and minds-based approaches of the past.

The comments come as many firms take a look at how their DEI strategies have come along since many were caught out by the pace of requests for change, particularly from skilled workers. Many companies have had to keep pace with worker demands for more fair workplaces.

Legal Disruptors.

Graeme Smith

Legal technology company Up Time Legal Systems has acquired Flywire technology, which provides Cloud services to law firms. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. This is the latest bit of M and A activity in the highly active sector this year.

Flywire will join Up Time Legal and become part of the Up Time practice line of business. This acquisition reinforces Up Time's existing Cloud-services offering and opens a comprehensive menu of legal technology services to Flywire clients, the company has said. Up Time is headquartered in Minnesota with additional offices in Canada.

Legal Disruptors.

Graeme Smith

The London and Rwanda based legal tech directory Hence.AI continues to attract more attention from both investors, with its latest round of seed capital and organisations interested in DEI and Sustainability. The platform, part based in Kigali in Rwanda, allows companies to seek out legal services on its directory using diversity as a metric.

In the words of their new investors, Hence.AI is a tool that allows clients to move from large-scale, mostly anecdotal decision making, to empirical evidence-based decision making, with continuous improvements after every interaction.

This is Legal Disruptors, powered by Summize, seamlessly integrating with your other favourite cloud solutions like Microsoft Teams, SharePoint and Slack to provide digital contracting software the whole business will love.

Paris Monroe

Lawyers underestimate the public's appetite for using technology in the delivery of legal services, a major study by the Legal Services Board and Solicitors Regulation Authority has found.

The public sees cybercrime as the biggest threat from legal tech, while lawyers were most concerned about the impersonal nature of the service. The research was commissioned to explore willingness among the public and lawyers to use legal technology and understand the extent to which people believed it was acceptable for wider society, and what limited or drove acceptability.

Community research surveyed 1020 members of the public and 166 lawyers working directly with consumers. To explore the issues in depth, they hosted online forums with 36 members of the public and 29 lawyers. It found a majority of the public supported the use of technology in legal services, both for themselves personally and for society more generally.

Most people think technology can bring benefits to legal services, helping the sector keep up with advances in wider society and potentially offering faster, more convenient, accessible, and more affordable services. People were perhaps unsurprisingly, more comfortable with well-established technology, like videoconferencing.

Legal professionals are also broadly supportive of the use of technology in legal services, and most feel it will improve services for themselves and their clients. That said, there is a greater appetite for technology in the sector than legal professionals think. They are more conservative in their assumptions about how willing their clients will be to use digital tools, compared to their own willingness. This does not match the public-stated willingness to use technology in legal services.

Public saw the risk of cyber crime as the top drawback of legal tech, 28%, followed by the threat to data privacy, 27%, and impersonal nature of the service, 15%. Lawyers had a very different view, with almost half, 45%, most concerned that the service was impersonal, followed in joint second place by the lack of digital access for some people and cybercrime both with 14%. They were more willing than the public to use video consultations, 83% compared to 66%, and e-signatures, 75% to 68%.

The research found that in each category of tech, lawyers underestimated the willingness of clients to use it. The public and lawyers had very different priorities when it came to the main benefits of legal tech, with the public overwhelmingly attracted to affordability, 45%, followed by better accuracy or consistency, 17%, and a speedier service at 15%. For lawyers, the top benefit was the speediest service, 36% followed by greater convenience, 23% and affordability, 20%.

Researchers said that in the surveys, both legal professionals and the public think it is more acceptable to use technology in straightforward cases and less acceptable to use it in cases that are complex, sensitive or invoke high stakes.

You're listening to Legal Disruptors powered by Summize, with the must-listen-to people at the cutting edge of legal, tech, business, and AI. This is the trendsetter talk on Legal Disruptors.

Graeme Smith

This time on the trendsetter talk, Katie Passley from EY, a Senior Solicitor and a diversity and inclusion ambassador talking with Steven John, the Head of Customer Success for Summize and the company’s DEI lead.

Lots of stuff comes up in this conversation. I thought we'd get things moving by me asking Steven actually, what’s the first thing you notice about DEI across multiple organisations?

Steven John

How people put their head in the sand and just ignore it. It's too difficult. I think some of it is - look, again I'm going to be generous, making it right for people… some of it is self-preservation.

I think some people, if they really stop to think about it, the guilt that would overwhelm them as they realise the things that they've just let pass by, that they've not recognised, understood, acknowledged or even been complicit within. And that's a really challenging thing, is that when people realise how they have been complicit over acts or subtle acts of discrimination and racism.

But it still pains me now that I look at some of my relationships and friendships and realise that they have dwindled because I've not been able to see from them even those initial baby steps of recognising and understanding my lived experiences as a black person, the lived experiences of black people generally and all other ethnic minorities with different struggles and different hurdles, and still wilfully being ignorant around it.

Legal Disruptors.

Steven John

I told a story about as a gay man, as a black gay man, the intersectionality of holding those different identities… that can also be really challenging. You know, the sound bite in the sentence I have is that some of the worst homophobia I've experienced has been from the black community. But some of the worst racism I've experienced has been from the gay community.

So, those are kind of your tribes that are at loggerheads with your own identity. It can be really challenging. But I think it's really so important for us to be having these kind of conversations, to be able to start with the uncomfortable, bring the uncomfortable truth into the consciousness of people so that we can start to really move forwards and start to make that social progress.

Katie Passley

Yeah, and just say to people It's okay to feel uncomfortable, get comfortable feeling uncomfortable...

Steven John

And make mistakes...

Katie Passley

And make mistakes, yeah. I guess silence is violence. Silence is the worst thing you can do. Silence sides with the oppressor and doesn't help anyone. Always speak out, even if you're not sure. You know, if you’re getting that niggling thought, challenge it, call people out on it, and don't be afraid.

You know, I've even done it in the workplace. I got asked, as a separate, we're having a legal catch up, and I got asked if I thought the organisation was doing enough. And I said, okay, I think let's start with the sandwich - positive, negative, positive. I said, I think it's the first organisation I’ve worked where we're doing a lot. But whether it's performative or not, I'm still on the fence. But we are doing a lot and there are some really positive outputs, and I've built some really solid networks through the work that the company are doing.

I said, but can I tell you in my time here, four colleagues, who happen to be black women, have left. Three of whom with no job to go to because psychological safety in the workplace was not there. And whilst you're pushing out and you're trying to drill down from top level, in any organisation, there's always silos and there's always, you know, DEI is always seen, I feel, as a nice to have, not necessity.

So, unless you make it mandatory, how can you stop this mentality, this silo mentality in the workplace and make these women feel safe and supported. And, you know, going back to your intersectionality point, they've got the challenges of being a female, but then they've got the challenges of being a black woman and often the only black woman in the room.

Steven John

Yeah, and I mean, I'm going to call it, you know, again, this isn't a competition, but black women are one of the most marginalised identities in the world, and especially in the workplace.

It's interesting we've moved onto that because reading something about Thomson Reuters published an article about diversity within law and showed the stats and the data that shows that people from diverse backgrounds are less likely to continue their career through the various stages and levels of the legal industry.

I'm guessing that's probably not a surprise to you, but what do you think companies can do to challenge this, to start creating an environment where this doesn't happen, where we see minority talent, whether it's more women in leadership roles or ethnic minorities climbing through those ranks?

Katie Passley

I think the first point is, have people like myself or you talk about lived experience. Education is key. Making a real commitment to anti-racism, not performative, not a tick box, or we've done it.

There was very much a sense of after George Floyd, oh quickly, let's jump on this commercial bandwagon. Right, okay, it's died a death. It's too hard now, let’s move on. Organisations need to keep momentum up. They need to support their colleagues. Not rely on those same colleagues to educate them as well, and they need to support external speakers coming into the organisation and really open DEI with open arms, and that's got to be top down. And quite often it won't be because there's a level of empathy missing there, because why do they have to put in the work? They don't need to. It's not seen.

I got challenged, I wanted to do - not at EY, at a different place, I wanted to do something around Stephen Lawrence day. We all remember the horrendous murder of Stephen Lawrence, and I got challenged on doing it because what was in it for that company? And I had to link ‘it's the company’ - and I was like, wow, that's not - you know, we're trying to create a safe space in work, but also a place of education. And we're not doing that.

Steven John

No, and I think the thing that still I can't figure out, and again I think you touched on it already, top-down leadership when it comes to DEI is woeful, if we look just generically across companies. You know, there will always be an exceptional business that really gets it, bakes it into its values and really moves beyond performative actions into structural change, to make sure that everyone can flourish and thrive within the organisation.

But the thing I still don't get is even if executives can't figure it out on a social level, it still impacts the bottom line. You know, there's many, many reports out from all of the various agencies and business reporting companies that will tell you that diverse teams make better outcomes. More female leaders means that projects are delivered on time more often within budget more often. More diverse teams may have better outcomes, more creative, problem-solve better.

Then there's, you know, the data that shows us, you know, you've got mixed ethnicity children. All of my siblings and my black siblings are with white partners. So again, their children are holding multiple identities. So, if we just look at it from a common sense perspective as well, there's a whole generation of people coming into the workplace who expect better from businesses. And I know whatever I'm doing, if I look at a company, professionally or personally, for whatever reason, the first thing I do is click on the about us page and I go and I say, what do your executives look like? And if it's a sea of white men in their whatever age, not interested. And that genuinely for me tells me a lot about their organisation, you know, a lack of women in senior positions.

So, when you look at page, one company looked at where there were 11 executives, nine of them were women, and it jumped out of me and I was like, wow, that was so different. But why is that so different? It shouldn't be.

Katie Passley

Exactly. But it's crazy, isn't it? That saying, isn't it? I look at my children and I'm like we need more diversity because you can't be what you can't see. And you know, it's a bit like films. Why is the black person on the film always was the bad person? You know, it needs more positive.

And also, I say to people, look, this isn't about promoting black people or anyone non-white above white people. This is just about trying to bring a level playing field here. It's not a threat to you. It's not a threat to me. It's just trying to level it up for everybody. So everybody gets a fair go at the world.

Steven John

Yeah, and I think you know, if we stop and really think about it, there's so many examples of why this just makes sense and, you know, in work I talk a sporting analogy to some people, you know, football team, netball team, whatever that team is, you don't have everybody who's got the same position. Everyone, you have a goalkeeper, you have a defender of a midfield, you have a striker, and everyone brings a different skill set to that particular team and therefore you have a team that's going to be able to win a match. Or if you're creating the technology team, you know, you don't want all of your developers only knowing the same set of languages, you need a broad spectrum.

So, it's still challenges to me as to why people can't recognise that, and again, whether it's ethnicity or you know, for me, I think gender equality is always my first and foremost within organisations. I think because if I can see gender equality right at the top of the organisation, it's by no means a prerequisite, but I think that's a better lead indicator that over time that organisation should evolve itself to becoming more balanced across multiple different identities.

Katie Passley

Yeah, but going back to the female points as well, I think we were talking earlier weren't we, that females need to really champion and support other females, really support… Society's expectation of myself as a working mum, full-time senior solicitor and mother of three, you know, I said to you earlier that you're expected to work like you don't parent in society and you're expected to parent like you don't work and you have this awful maternal guilt. But if females could all be honest and vulnerable and open up with each other and support each other, then we could only evolve and grow from that massively.

Steven John

Yeah, and I think that again points to the organisational systemic structures that we deal with as a society where the minorities are pitted against each other. You know there's only space for one minority, so who's going to get it? As opposed to There's space for everybody. And I think that's really important messaging you're saying there, you know, people being able to support each other and see that the competition isn't at their level. The competition or the struggle is actually at a societal level or an organisational level. And actually, you know it's about bringing fairness and equality and balance into all of those different environments, structures, organisations, teams…

Katie Passley

Yeah. And, you know, embrace, don't - I think we were always brought to be colour blind, weren't we? Embrace difference, you know, it's positive.

As a family we've been to Jamaica every single year. My children have very, very close cultural links, especially with their grandparents and the family that are still there. And I don't mean going and sitting in an all-inclusive for two weeks. They know the island, they know the culture, but they know the British culture too, and it's firmly implanting that. But it's also allowing my friends and my family to enjoy that cultural difference when they come to our house. You know, there's a very mixed flavour in the house, and we're really proud of the heritage in our family and the culture in our family.

You know, don't tell me you're colour blind because everybody sees colour. See it, acknowledge it and support it.

Steven John

Yep. You're absolutely right.

Katie Passley

For parents who have white children, they don't have to have a conversation that other parents have to have. To keep your child safe in this world, you have to have the most gut-wrenching conversations with them about racism and awareness about racism, to keep them safe from any harm.

School was difficult for Jasmine. Jasmine says to me now, and it really upsets me That she never felt like she fitted in, she never felt like she found her tribe. She always felt like an outsider because we live in an affluent white area with not much diversity. And schools need to really, really do a lot more around DEI and they need to get a lot more onto the curriculum, and not see it as just a tick box.

So, I've spent a lot of time building up Jasmine's confidence, and it was the summer, she was about 13 years old, and Jasmine had hair paranoia because she's got the most beautiful afro hair. And I've always tried to big up her hair and make her feel good and comfortable in her own skin. And I'd spent a whole summer in those formative years of Jasmine, trying to build her confidence, trying to encourage her to feel comfortable to wear her hair out and not have to hide her hair. And she went into year eight at her school and I got a phone call.

So, she'd gone into school with a ponytail looking very smart, as she always does and still does now, and they called me in work, and they said that Jasmine was breaking the hair policy. They had introduced a no bun ban at school. Girls weren't allowed for some unknown reason to wear buns in their hair, and what followed was a lengthy, probably three-week confrontation with the school, explaining that Jasmine, first of all, did not have a bun, she had a ponytail. But her hair doesn't drop the same way as a white person does, and then confronting the ignorance of the teaching staff, who then compared Jasmine to another biracial child who had very different, probably more white hair and said, could Jasmine not wear her hair down because this other child does.

And I then had to educate them on a) Jasmine would not ever wear, she will wear her out now she's older, but she wouldn't wear it out anyway because she's very self conscious, but it doesn't drop the same way. And I'd actually said to them, this is the equivalent of a Daily Mail article, and you know, I'm going to take a photo of myself with my thumbs down and my daughter and just say, this is just bonkers. You're trying to detract from her education over some ludicrous hair policy. And then you've made her doubly paranoid about her appearance and things like that went on and on with school.

But when Jasmine was seven years old, probably the most horrific racist incident happened to us as a family. It was horrendous. It was Father's Day, and we had gone to a music festival in Sefton Park in Liverpool called Africa Oyé. Prior to that, we'd gone for a lovely meal, and we'd stayed later than we normally would because we were enjoying it and Jasmine was enjoying it.

And then we left the venue and my husband, Mike, was driving us home and we came out through the Birkenhead Tunnel, and he was in the middle lane, and then this aggressive car came up behind him and started flashing him and behaving really erratically. And I actually turned to Mike and sort of joked about what an idiot this person had been, and then this car undertook us, and I said thank goodness for that, he's gone, and then the next minute he was waiting for us around the corner. And then what happened was probably the worst hour of my life.

He tried to force us off the road. He tried to run us into a roundabout, and then we went down a bypass, which I think the speed limit at the time was 70 miles an hour, but this guy was in front of us. He was straddling both lanes at 10 miles an hour, and he was trying to force Mike to go into the back of him. Jasmine was screaming, I was screaming. Mike was livid, and it was just awful. And we were getting much closer to home. And I was saying to Mike, we can't go home because I don't want this nut-job to know where we live.

So, we took a detour through one of the villages by where we live, and Mike got out on the roundabout with this guy and the most abhorrent racism came out of this guy's mouth. And he was screaming erratically at Mike and at Jasmine and myself in the car, calling us all the most awful racist names. And I was just begging Mike to get back into the car, and I mean, begging him, because this guy had threatened to go and get his sons and he was going to come and shoot us.

And it was the most bizarre moment to go from something that had been such a happy Sunday to a really frightening experience. So, Mike eventually got back in the car and the guy then persisted, started to follow us. So, I'm saying to Mike, look, we can't go anywhere near home, I'm going to ring the police. And Mike was like, no, because, unfortunately, through no fault of Mike’s, he's had a lot of horrible experience with the police, and the trust is not there with law enforcement, understandably.

So, this guy carried on following us, so we got out the car again by the railway station and I started to knock on some doors to try and get some help because I was really, really scared what was going to happen. The racist abuse continued. It was also aimed at myself, and Jasmine, and I then rang my sister, who could hear the most awful stuff going on in the background. And she said, I don't care, get off the phone now, I'm ringing the police. So the police came brilliantly within about a minute or two, surveyed the scene and it sounds awful, but we assumed they were going to see this old white guy in the car, young black guy, and they were probably going to arrest Mike. And they positively surprised us, I will say, and they were brilliant at the scene.

They were quite upset by what they had seen and what they had witnessed and the fact that there was a young child involved, who was obviously so shaken up by this incident. So, they advised us to go home and calm Jasmine down, calm ourselves down, and they arrested the perpetrator at the scene. And they said they'd come out to our house in the week and take victim statements, witness statements. And then, later that evening, they actually rang back and said the custody sergeant had been so disturbed by what he had seen and heard that he wanted the officers to come back out that evening while the evidence was fresh in our minds, and they took us into separate rooms and interviewed us both about what had happened, and they were just disgusted.

Fortunately for us, one of the officers happened to have mixed-race family members themselves, and so there was a natural empathy there, that isn't always there, I'd say. But settling Jasmine down that night was absolutely horrendous, I can still picture it in my head now. You know, she was convinced people were going to come with guns and shoot us. She couldn't understand why the man had said those awful things to us. And it took a number of weeks to try and get Jasmine over that - she still remembers it now, and she's 21.

And it went to court, and the delightful gentleman in question pleaded not guilty, so it was like putting us through another assault again because we had to go and give evidence. And it sounds crazy because you think as a solicitor, you're absolutely fine speaking, but again, it was very, very harrowing going to court. We were put into the witness room and we experienced witness intimidation by the family members of the gentleman involved. And when we got outside of the court, his son had tried to run us over with a Mitsubishi Outlander car.

It was just absolutely horrendous. The gentleman concerned was known to the police. I think we weren't the first and were certainly not the last victim, and fortunately, he was found guilty and he went to prison. And it had a racially aggravated element to his driving charges.

I'd say that day probably changed us all as a family, massively. And it changed me and my perception of the world. And it sounds awful to say it took something as horrendous as that to really make you sit up and take note, you know? But it did.

Steven John

Do you think there's any kind of structural changes you're seeing in the industry in terms of addressing these imbalances, so that we're not continuing seeing seas of men in their sixties and seventies being leaders of organisations, for example?

Katie Passley

I think I'm seeing a gradual, slow change, but like with anything, it's a bit like turning an oil tanker, isn't it? You've got to do it slowly and surely. And it's awful, because you've got to be conscious that you can't upset the powers that be. So, you have to do it gently, which I hate saying because I will always call things out. But you do have to bring long lasting change, you have to take everybody on the journey with you.

Steven John

Yep. Absolutely right.

Well, listen, Katie, I think we could honestly keep talking for about another three or four hours but we're going to get kicked out of here soon. So look, thank you so much for being on here, and, you know, if the opportunity presents itself again, I'd love to continue this conversation and take another deep dive. But for now, thank you.

Katie Passley

Thank you.

This is legal Disruptors, powered by Summize. Business just got faster with Summize. Shorten your contract cycles to increase revenue, while reducing and managing risk. Book a free demo now on Summize.com.

Graeme Smith

Next time, we are back with the last in the current series of Legal Disruptors and it is a big one. Tom Dunlop, the CEO of Summize. He is back talking to the Head of Legal for GSK in the UK in a chat that you will not want to miss. We'll see you then.

The latest in the world of legal, business and technology. Legal Disruptors, powered by Summize. Digital contracting, done differently.


About the author

Steven John

Steven John is the Head of Customer Success at Summize. Responsible for ensuring Summize’s customers achieve their business objectives from the software, Steven has consistently worked at the intersection of people and technology throughout his career. Alongside his CS responsibilities, Steven also heads up Summize’s DEI programme. He is passionate about ensuring structural processes are in place to make sure Summize retains its inclusive culture as it grows.
The LinkedIn icon in blueThe Law Society logo
Read more about the author