IBA 2017 – Observations from Down Under

During this year’s IBA annual conference, we again had the privilege of meeting with 40 prominent law firms from around the globe to discuss topical issues. Similarly to last year, we would once again wish to share with you some of our observations from the discussions with our colleagues during the IBA week.

In addition to learning about important updates from the respective firms and the legal markets in general, we focused on three main areas this year: 1) what kind of growth or focus areas do people see in their business in the next couple of years, 2) where we are going with the roll-out of AI tools in our work, and 3) how do firms look at the key diversity and gender equality aspects.

Below is a summary of our main conclusions. Among these, you will notice that this year there was a bit less concentration in the indicated growth and focus areas. Compliance and investigations are still at the top of the list, but this does not stand out as the leading growth area as clearly as they did last year.

When it comes to AI, the main conclusion seems to be that most firms (around 2/3) have tried at least some type of solution, but only a couple are using AI on a regular basis in transactional work. The use of AI (or other tools that provide sophisticated search capabilities) seems to be more common in discovery type of work in general and in antitrust related litigation.

With respect to diversity and gender equality, we noted that about one third of the firms had at least some measures in place supporting lawyers’ possibilities to be active parents while pursuing an ambitious career. When discussing whether diversity aspects are observed in the partner admission process, the typical answer was that while there might be different mentoring and other career support programs in place, the actual partner admission process is done on a more or less purely meritocratic basis.

About one third of the firms told us that they have had formal training or workshops on diversity issues, including on unconscious bias (1). This was very common among firms from common law jurisdictions,  among whom practically all had done these types of trainings or workshops, but much less common among firms from continental Europe.

The average percentage of female partners in the firms that we met with was 17.3%. There were some regional variations in the proportion of female partners. In firms from continental Europe (including the Baltics) the average percentage was 18.4%, and a bit higher, 22.9%, in firms based in common law countries (some of which have extensive international coverage). Finally, and perhaps a bit surprisingly, the lowest average percentage of female partners was found among our fellow Nordic firms with an average percentage of only 10.6%.

We hope that these findings can be of relevance to you, and we thank all of you who took the time in your extremely packed IBA schedules to meet and share your views with us. We look forward to following up with you in the course of the year and at the latest at the next IBA conference in Rome.

Best regards,

(1) If you want to test your unconscious bias, there is a great way to do it on the website of Project Implicit.


What are your firm’s three key growth / emphasis areas?

This year, we saw a much wider spread of answers compared to last year. The top eight areas were (in number of answers):


What, if any, software have you tried for automated DD?

In number of answers:

Have you used similar software for other purposes too?

In number of answers:


How do you support active parenthood?

“Role models are important”

“We have systemic issues in the organisation, such as unconscious bias, and we are trying to eliminate that”

“Each pitch must have a gender wash – we have lost deals due to not having a diverse team”

“We have diversion and inclusion week, mentoring programs, formalised reviews of the talent matrix, responsibility of group heads to handle re-entry after parental leave”

“With us parental leave is gender-neutral, as the state system is sufficient for compensation”

“Part-time partnership is possible”

“We have not been successful in retaining female senior associates. Difficult also to retain males”

“Is it our fault, or the girls’?”

“Parental support is about small practical steps in everyday life – flexibility is allowed”

“We have just approved a programme for career planning”

“The Millennials’ mind-sets in general are a challenge”

“We have everything”

Is gender equality / diversity reflected in the partnership process / partner criteria?

Have you arranged diversity workshops / training – for example on unconscious bias?

On average, large international law firms have come very far in their implementation processes compared to regional or local firms.

Examples of tools used in organisations to enhance diversity:

  • Gender equality programme
  • Formal training on unconscious bias
  • Diversity questionnaire
  • Mentoring programme
  • Working group
  • A lunch workshop for discussing everyday issues and solutions
  • Blind CVs for initial screening