The legal sector is a major driving force in the global economy, and it is essential that it continues to evolve to stay competitive. By encouraging inclusivity within the legal sector, diverse perspectives and opinions are given a platform to be heard, which can help to drive innovation and creativity. Diversity also helps to attract a larger pool of talent, as people are more likely to apply for roles in an organisation that values inclusivity and diversity. In this way (recruitment practices and attraction of talent), both law firms and legal recruitment firms can champion and promote the pursuit of diversity and inclusion.
Legal recruitment firms can play an important role in improving racial diversity in the legal profession by implementing a number of strategies. These include setting diversity goals and metrics, conducting blind screening, as well as offering mentorship programs. At the Halkin Partnership, diversity and inclusion is key to our success, and our efforts to contribute to this cause have led us to partnering with the AMOS Bursary. Our relationship with the AMOS Bursary extends to financial sponsorship aimed at facilitating academic and professional development of the Bursary’s students. Our work also extends partaking in the mentorship scheme organised by AMOS, which aims to support academically able young British people of African and Caribbean descent in preparing for and entering chosen careers (you can find out more information on the AMOS Bursary and the ways in which you can contribute via the links provided at the end of this article).
Looking back to law firms and the benefits attributable to promoting diversity and inclusion in the legal sector from within the industry, it is arguable that diversity in the legal sector is also advantageous for clients, as it allows them to benefit from a more diverse range of legal advice and representation. This is particularly important in cases where a specific cultural or religious background may be relevant, as it can help to ensure that a client’s needs are understood and respected. For example, in areas such as emerging markets or Islamic finance.
Unfortunately, the legal sector has a long history of lacking in its commitment to diversity and inclusion. This has been especially true for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) individuals, who are significantly underrepresented in this field. Presently, approximately 79% of the individuals making up the legal profession are White/British. Meanwhile Asian/ Asian British lawyers make up 14%, Black/ African/ Caribbean/ Black British make up 3%, and other ethnic group lawyers make up around 2%.1
This lack of diversity is a problem that has been highlighted in recent years, leading to a greater focus on improving diversity in the industry. One of the major obstacles faced by BAME individuals in the legal sector is the lack of access to opportunity. This is often due to the fact that historically, the legal sector has been viewed as a career path for middle class individuals that have attended top universities, which prominent UK law firms purposely recruit graduates from, as they regard these institutions to be more effective at socialising graduates with the culture, soft skills and type of ‘high-class’ image sought for commercial success. This places BAME lawyers at a disadvantage in finding employment in elite segments of the profession, since they are concentrated in less prestigious higher education institutions.2
This also means that BAME individuals, who often come from more disadvantaged backgrounds, find it harder to break into the sector. This lack of opportunity can be further compounded by systemic racism and unconscious bias, making it even harder for BAME individuals to succeed. In order to make the legal sector more diverse, it is essential that these individuals are given the same opportunities as their white counterparts.
This means that firms must focus on creating a level playing field when it comes to recruitment and promotion. This involves making sure that recruitment processes are free from bias, and that BAME individuals have access to the same resources and support as their white peers. It is also important for firms to create an environment where BAME individuals feel supported and valued. This means actively addressing issues such as casual racism and microaggressions, and creating a culture of inclusion and respect. This should include initiatives such as mentoring programs, which can provide these individuals with the support they need to reach their potential.
Thus, it is important that firms recognise the importance of diversity and actively work to promote it. This can include initiatives such as sponsoring BAME law students, or creating specific roles and programs to ensure that BAME individuals are represented in senior positions. By working to improve diversity in the legal sector, BAME individuals will be given the same opportunities as their white counterparts, and the sector as a whole will become more inclusive and diverse. This will help to ensure that the legal sector is representative of the society it serves, and that BAME individuals are given the same chance to succeed.
In essence, it is vital that the industry make further strides in this space, and it is up to leading individuals and law firms to do this and set the example for the profession.
The AMOS Bursary – https://www.amosbursary.org.uk/
Mentoring Opportunities – https://www.amosbursary.org.uk/mentor/
Volunteering Opportunities – https://www.amosbursary.org.uk/support/volunteer/
1How diverse is the solicitors’ profession? – https://www.sra.org.uk/sra/equality-diversity/diversity-profession/diverse-legal-profession/
2Final Report for the Solicitors Regulation Authority, October 2017 – https://www.sra.org.uk/pdfcentre/?type=Id&data=719400053