The Black Lives Matter movement has radically resurged in 2020, as a result of a viral video capturing the death of George Floyd at the hands of several American police officers. This has sparked outrage at police brutality directed towards the Black community and as protests and civil unrest have unfolded in the USA, the movement has spread across the world.
The BLM organisation has spearheaded a global campaign for increased awareness and eradication of systematic racism. As donations pour in for the victims of police brutality and funds to support the fight for justice and legal reform in the USA, other countries are confronting their uncomfortable histories and underlying racism. This process also involves businesses, law firms and chambers ensuring that they tackle subliminal racism and increase diversity within their own institutions.
So what are law firms and chambers doing? In this article, we explore the need for diversity in the legal profession as well as the pledges that firms and chambers have made.
Reflecting diversity within a firm is vital. Equality of opportunity must be offered to all candidates regardless of ethnicity or background. This must be effected both in terms of training contract / pupillage application processes and opportunities for progression within firms and chambers themselves.
It is estimated that 14% of the UK population are Black, Asian, or of minority ethnicity (BAME). Although firms and chambers have attempted to reflect this statistic in their recruitment (with BAME candidates constituting 16% of law firm trainees in 2019), there is still a disparity between the percentage of BAME trainees and pupils and the percentage of BAME partners and QCs. Ethnic minority candidates currently approximate only 8% of partners and 8.1% of QCs. This may reflect the lower percentage of Black, Asian and ethnic minority lawyers entering the profession in past years, but may also indicate an issue in the progression of BAME practitioners.
Having a smaller proportion of leaders from minority communities is detrimental to not only the progression of firms and chambers, but wider legal policy. Principally, a lack of diverse leadership may discourage aspiring solicitors and barristers from different backgrounds to apply, and can perpetuate the misconception that law is an exclusive and archaic profession.
To produce innovative work and attract both clients and employees, law firms and chambers must embrace cultural diversity and the fresh insights that it offers. This can shape legal policy and even work to eradicate systematic racism within the law. For example, within the criminal justice system, on average, five times more Black people than White people are imprisoned, and this is partly attributed to the significant underrepresentation of certain minority groups within the justice system. Therefore, increasing diversity, particularly amongst legal leaders, is not only necessary to ensure fairness and equality, but will also improve the output of the legal industry and tackle more deep-seated racism within court processes.
Law firms and chambers must speak out and take action against racism. It is also important for us, as students and aspiring lawyers, to take note of these pledges when making applications and encourage the legal profession to continue to support these values in the future! We have therefore compiled a few of the responses and pledges that firms and chambers have made:
Since the world has been galvanised into action as a consequence of the powerful BLM movement, we have learnt to open our eyes to the struggles of the Black community. Looking to the future, it is imperative that law firms and chambers speak out, take action and wield their power to support the fight against racial injustice. This involves making the legal profession more accessible for the BAME community, and promoting cultural diversity within law firms and chambers.