Interview with Grace McGowan: how diversity issues are affecting paralegals

Aspiring in-house solicitors - paralegals and diversity

From Lexis®PSL In-house: In the third part of this series looking at the work of Aspiring Solicitors, Grace McGowan, a paralegal in the banking sector and a professional ambassador for Aspiring Solicitors, an organisation aiming to increase diversity in the legal profession, talks about why she became an ambassador and highlights how diversity issues are affecting paralegals in the profession.


 Grace McGowanWhat is your background?

I have been an in-house paralegal since August 2012. I have developed extensive experience in the invest-ment side of banking with two large global banks. I have recently started working in a contract management role for the asset management division of a large American bank while I apply for training contracts.

Why did you sign up to be a professional ambassador for Aspiring Solicitors?

I met Chris White, the founder of Aspiring Solicitors, through colleagues who had worked with him during his career as a commercial solicitor. They recommended him to me as I am in the process of trying to get a training contract. I went on to become a professional ambassador for Aspiring Solicitors as I felt strongly that the initiative helps people who don't have a voice in this industry. The recognition and awards that Aspiring Solicitors is receiving, alongside backing from a number of law firms, illustrates that it is really starting to make an impact in the profession.

In your opinion, what more could the in-house community be doing to support diversity?

In-house legal teams do not actively recruit junior lawyers or trainee solicitors and training contracts within these environments are few and far between. I feel that this is largely due to the fact that big in-house legal departments have their pick of the external counsel who are competing with each other for panel positions with large organisations. As a result, the in-house community inherits the lack of diversity that exists in pri-vate practice.

I feel there is also an issue with paralegals in the profession. Organisations and law firms alike fail to recog-nise the talented paralegals they have and will not necessarily offer career progression to qualification for paralegals. In the process of recruiting people externally, often straight from excellent universities, they are dismissing people with extensive industry experience who have a wealth of knowledge and skills to offer a company.

What top three legal and/or soft skills do you think are important for aspiring in-house lawyers?

Excellent interpersonal skills are key. Your colleagues in other departments are essentially your clients and you have to be able to manage these interactions confidently to develop positive relationships. You have to be able to see things from their view and understand that, as a team, you are achieving the best for the company. Perhaps empathy would also go hand-in-hand with this. Project management, financial literacy and time management are also really important. In-house lawyers are pulled in several directions and have a lot of roles to manage in their day-to-day jobs.

As an ambassador, how do you support and encourage aspiring solicitors to gain and improve skills such as leadership, teamwork, networking and communication?

Always try and say 'yes' to any event at work or university. I will always try and attend talks at work and work social functions, compete in workplace running teams, and attend networking events with Aspiring Solicitors.

For networking and communication, it is best just to be yourself. Networking events can sometimes feel quite sterile and forced - your communication skills will develop far more naturally when you are at ease. I am fortunate to have built up a lot of contacts in the legal and banking professions and I would like to think this is due to my networking ability.

Which conferences, networking events and publications would you recommend to aspiring in-house lawyers?

I would definitely recommend attending some of the Aspiring Solicitors networking events. Chris White invites professional ambassadors to these and it is a good opportunity to speak to people in the legal profession in a relaxed and supportive environment.

More information about Aspiring Solicitors can be found here.

This interview is taken from Lexis PSL In-house, request a free trial here.

Interviewed by Helen Redding.
The views expressed by our Legal Analysis interviewees are not necessarily those of the proprietor.

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