A few months ago, back in September, I visited Olswang as part of an Aspiring Solicitors’ Pimms Afternoon Tea. By sheer coincidence, my first chance to network arrived early – in the elevator in fact, when I bumped into graduate recruiter Katharine Banbury and spoke to her about her role at Olswang. After that it was down to the formalities of signing up and introducing myself to the fellow aspirants who’d secured a place on the event, before we were whisked away to a talk and panel session with current associates, trainees, and even Olswang’s then-CEO himself, David Stewart. Once that was done, there was yet more chance for networking – this time over Pimms and nibbles!
What really struck me about Olswang was the relative lack of hierarchy. As David Stewart pointed out, this doesn’t mean its employers have an easy ride – in fact, quite the opposite, as it’s their ability and achievements, not rank, that come centre-stage. Olswang’s an intensely meritocratic firm which really recognises ambition – from networking with the trainees, I discovered that one of the firm’s partners, Clive Gringras, was made up only 2.5 years after qualification, and the head of Corporate Responsibility, Linda Zell, got the job by writing the CR manifesto in her free time, off her own back!
I’ve visited a number of firms over the past year – and I can honestly say that only one or two of them came across as just as forward-thinking and down-to-earth as Olswang did. And the simple fact that the firm’s CEO took the time to turn up to an open day and to took questions demonstrated that our opinions were valued. In fact, we’re now Linkedin connections – my first CEO connection, as it turns out! I just haven’t had that kind of interaction and support from senior management at other firms.
The firm’s genuine and passionate commitment to increasing diversity was also heartening. Although all firms have diversity objectives and on a basic level understand the business case for diversity, here Olswang really puts its money where its mouth is – the firm recently had an all-female trainee intake to try to balance the under-representation of men at senior levels.
Personally, I was a little sceptical of this measure, since it’s well known that more women tend to achieve training contracts anyway, but often drop off the figures as trainees move up to associates, who move up to senior associates, who move up to partners etc. So unless this structural issue is fixed, an all-female intake won’t necessarily help increase the numbers of female partners – those trainees might well ‘drop off’ just like the women before them.
But Katherine assured me that Olswang recognised this structural issue and were focused on alleviating it more than on hiring more female trainees – they weren’t going to rest on their laurels, or assume the problem had been fixed. And all-female intakes, they told me, weren’t really their priority (thankfully for me!) – they were just how it’d worked out that year.
It was also refreshing that Olswang recognised that ‘diversity’ wasn’t simply a synonym for ‘gender equality’, but also encompasses ethnic diversity, LGBT issues (the firm’s participating in DiversCity this year) and disability, as well as socio-economic background, school background, religion… the list goes on! As somebody who’s passionate about increasing the number of disabled people in law, it was heartening that Olswang understood where I was coming from.
That said, the relatively small number of training contracts and vac scheme places offered each year did make me a little apprehensive about applying. Otherwise, there was nothing to criticise. I’m still on the fence as to whether to apply, but that’s only because I want to set a number of firms to apply to so I don’t spread myself too thin – if not, I’d be making my application as we speak. Olswang genuinely comes across as a lovely firm and it’s one I’d be proud to work for in the future.