Leading City firms adopt measures to combat obstacles faced by Black, Asian and minority ethnic lawyers

updated on 08 July 2020

The Race Fairness Commitment (RFC) has been adopted by 17 top law firms in partnership with Rare Recruitment as part of their long-term strategies to help recruit, retain and develop black, Asian and minority ethnic talent within the legal profession.

Available for free for all employers, the RFC includes pathfinding measures such as close analysis of the quantitative data and monitoring throughout careers, from recruitment to senior promotion, to identify and address the stage at which black, Asian and minority ethnic lawyers are unjustly falling behind their peers. Firms must also commit to new and robust training, monitoring, mentorship and other fixed measures to ensure that race and racism are better recognised and discussed internally, including in every induction and exit interview.

Many black, Asian and minority ethnic lawyers reported that they do not find their firms’ cultures inclusive, according to research conducted by Rare earlier this year. Rare’s research indicates that minority ethnic lawyers spend, on average, 20% less time at their firms before leaving compared to their white colleagues. Meanwhile, a recent YouGov poll identified that 50% of black Britons have experienced racism at work.

Roy Appiah, Rare alumnus and senior associate at Clifford Chance with five years’ post-qualification experience at the firm, said: “Clifford Chance is undoubtedly a great place to work and I am very fortunate and privileged to do so. However, as a black or ethnic minority lawyer, you are never too far away from reminders that the firm, and the industry, were not designed for people like you to rise to the top.

“These reminders come in many forms, like having your security pass checked twice to enter work, or being invited to training about what leadership looks like where none of the dozen speakers look like you.”

He adds: “The Race Fairness Commitment is a significant step in helping other black and ethnic minority staff feel they can be themselves from the outset, and not have to earn the right to be themselves. It poses the right question for firms to be asking. That question is: ‘has the firm created an environment that will enable ethnic minority staff to progress?’ rather than ‘what is wrong with the ethnic minority staff?’”

Meanwhile, Ngozie Azu, Rare alumnus and head of international relations at Slaughter and May, said: “I’ve been at Slaughter and May for more than 10 years and I’ve been fortunate to have a number of senior ‘sponsors’ who have supported me along the way with advice and mentorship. There’s always been a focus on the stats, on outreach, on improving our recruitment processes. Which is great. But what’s changed in the last few months – and what this commitment will institutionalise – is that the focus has shifted to the more personal stories, the human element. How does it actually feel to be black in a firm like this? There will always be areas of differences – for example my unusual name, my hair and how I spend my leisure time. The challenge for firms is to ensure that they are creating an environment in which everyone can bring their most authentic selves to work without fear that our differences will mark us out or impact our ability to succeed.”

Raph Mokades, founder and managing director of Rare, added:

“What seems possible in terms of racial justice has shifted this year, and the Race Fairness Commitment is about real change. It’s a brave step for the law firms to take, as well as a necessary one. It goes beyond merely not discriminating, and it goes beyond the usual diversity and inclusion activities you see at many organisations. For law firms, it’s about recognising a problem and hunting it down, and I’m delighted that so many have taken this major step.”

The following 17 firms have signed the RFC: