#BlackLivesMatter began in the wake of Trayvon Martin's murder in Canada in 2013. Since then, it has become a global movement. The murder of George Floyd just last year resurged the Black Lives Matter movement. In many ways, this has pushed law firms to think about diversity and social justice.
Diversity has for a long time been at the centre of discussions for the future of law firms. According to a Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) survey, only 3% of Black lawyers make up the total number of those working in the profession. These lawyers are not proportionally represented within the profession. The majority are found working in the areas of immigration, family and crime. I’m sure I’m not alone in having been told that my accent, image and background suits only certain areas of the profession. These areas are also not highly remunerated. Not only does diverse teamwork in all areas of law improve the range of solutions a team may offer, but it also keeps things interesting while encouraging us to be receptive to different ways of thinking.
Although representation and inclusion continues to be low, there are numerous law firms that, prior to the tragic events of last year and since then, have continued to use their initiatives to bring diverse and forward-thinking talent to their firms. To illustrate, Clifford Chance has set itself targets to ensure that 15% of new partners and 25% of senior associates are from a 'BAME' background in the US and UK. Linklaters has also pledged that 35% of its trainee intake is from a 'BAME' background, while ensuring that at least 10% are from a Black background. We must also celebrate the success and recognition of firms such as Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, which recently appointed its first inclusion and diversity client relationship partner to focus on collaborating with colleagues, clients and communities to create a more inclusive environment.
We must also look at the Bar and see what has been done to improve the number of diverse talents it employs.
Although a record number of 22 ‘BAME’ barristers became Queen’s Counsel (QC’) this past year, this accounts for only 1.3% of the QC population, as reported by the Bar Standards Board. If we examine the numbers more closely, only 23 QCs in the UK are Black. This year Combar has supported Mentoring For Underrepresented Groups: a scheme run by Commercial Barristers’ Chambers, made up of Blackstone Chambers, Brick Court Chambers, Essex Court Chambers, Fountain Court Chambers, One Essex Court Chambers and 3 Verulam Buildings. This is a way to improve access for underrepresented aspiring barristers to the commercial Bar – a Bar that has, for most of its time, been reserved for the elitist. More recently, the UK Supreme Court announced a collaboration with the charity Bridging the Bar, which seeks to support those from underrepresented groups into judicial roles by offering a paid internship. Looking to the future, it is evident that the legal profession is taking action to improve accessibility. This is necessary to ensure fairness and quality.
This is more than just improving statistics. This must be offered alongside more respectful and direct conversations about the lack of diversity the profession has faced. These discussions should start before law school. A lack of diverse law faculties across UK universities does little to encourage those from underrepresented backgrounds to take on leadership roles. We’re continuously told that connections and networking are everything. Attitudes like this limit those who have little work experience due to a lack of connections.
Even when opportunities are available to make these connections, they tend to be reserved for those who have the highest grades and mentors, while failing to recognise the high number of the UK 'BAME' population living in poverty, without access to such things. RARE recruitment has been working with more than 100 employers to tackle such issues. It uses contextual measures to remove unconscious biases in the recruitment process.
What is clear from the recent Black Lives Matter protests is that more chambers, firms and students are actively participating in campaigns to tackle racial injustice. Many have ensured that those who participate in such protests are protected by offering pro bono advice. The events of last year not only raised awareness, but increased the number of those participating in pro bono representation. Organisations such as Liberty have been making individuals aware of their rights in society, which for many years has been misunderstood.
A year on, there’s growth in our understanding, yet it is clear that there is still a long way to go.