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Article written by Laetitia Ponde Nkot
Samuel Clague, the founder and CEO of The Stephen James Partnership, has launched in July Qualified Black Lawyers Matter, an innovative online mentoring platform to significantly enhance Black representation within the legal field.
The Stephen James Partnership (SJP), a renowned legal recruitment firm, has a proven history of successfully bridging the gap between clients and exceptional, diverse candidates, earning them prestigious accolades. Since its establishment in 2011, the firm has established itself as the go-to brand for the top legal professionals in the UK.
The technology platform aims to create a connection between qualified black lawyers and senior decision-makers in law firms as well as in-house legal teams. The expansion is centered around the mentoring initiative ‘Endeavour’, implemented by the recruitment firm. This highly successful programme has facilitated meaningful connections between over 200 accomplished legal professionals and aspiring Black lawyers.
The scheme works towards support companies in their efforts to retain and promote Black lawyers by understanding the unique challenges they encounter.
Law firms or in-house legal departments will fund the scheme by paying for experienced staff members to mentor Black lawyers at other organisations. This arrangement of mutual benefit strives to advantage both parties involved.
According to Mr. Clague, he anticipates that the vast majority of mentors, around 98%, will not be of Black descent. Furthermore, there might be mentors who are employed in firms that do not have any Black lawyers whatsoever. This situation is similar to SJP’s previously established Endeavour mentoring programme, which was initiated in 2021 with the purpose of supporting aspiring Black lawyers.
While mentees enjoy free guidance, mentors are required to pay a fee. According to Legal Futures, the majority of mentors have expressed high praise for the programme, with one mentor mentioning how the experience has significantly broadened their understanding of the challenges that Black lawyers experienced.
Although recruitment was frequently a topic of discussion, many companies still had a serious amount of work to do when it came to employee retention. ‘Simply hiring individuals does not automatically resolve potential obstacles.’ Firms will now have the opportunity to receive input from experienced lawyers at all points throughout their professional journey.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority reports that Black lawyers currently represent only 3% of the legal profession, a mere 1% increase since 2014. Black representation among lawyers in law firms is only 2%; and black individuals make up only 1% of the partners within larger and top firms.
As explained by Clague, the platform and its operations, including onboarding, matching individuals, and supervising relationships, demand significant time and resources. Clague said that external mentoring, nonetheless, yields great results.
A research conducted by the recruitment firm revealed that participating in the Endeavour scheme has:
- increased the likelihood of 70% of individuals staying with their organisation;
- 63% of individuals reported feeling a heightened sense of engagement with their company;
- 87% of employees actively participated in their employer’s Diversity and Inclusion initiatives.
An impressive majority of mentors expressed that their mentoring relationships had immensely enhanced their abilities in listening and communication. A mentor once mentioned that the experience expanded their perspective on the challenges faced by black lawyers.
The mentoring sessions will be conducted exclusively online, eliminating the necessity of meeting up at a coffee shop in London. This opens up the opportunity for mentors to be located anywhere across the globe.
By utilising an online platform, large organisations can effortlessly expand their mentoring initiatives and empower SJP to closely track the volume of interactions. Additionally, this platform can offer valuable prompts and suggestions for further enhancement.
As stated by Clague, one of the drawbacks of internal mentoring programmes in many firms is that participants often hesitate to speak freely out of fear that their comments might reach someone who has connections, potentially resulting in negative consequences for them. By employing an external platform, senior private practice and in-house lawyers can engage in unrestricted and enriching discussions with their counterparts from various firms.
External digital mentoring can play a crucial role in bolstering organisations’ efforts to build diverse and inclusive workplaces for the future. It has the potential to transform these places into environments where individuals from frequently marginalised communities can rise to the highest positions and receive equal treatment, just like any other person.
Even if the platform is digital, Clague said that the matching process is not fully automated. The mentees should be the ones driving the selection of mentors in order to achieve their desired goals and outcomes. Assisting individuals in comprehending the vital steps to progress further and establish valuable connections.
Mr Clague emphasised that while there might be positive results in the future and some mentees from the Endeavour programme have successfully secured training contracts or positions in vacation programmes, it is essential to understand that mentoring schemes are not intended for recruitment purposes or as a means to attract and hire talented individuals from the Black community.
From the point of view of Mr. Clague, mentoring can be extremely beneficial for companies in terms of boosting diversity and inclusion. However, it has the potential to not only reinforcing their income-generating skills but also make a significant difference during this period of uncertainty, where diversity budgets are extremely limited and leaders in inclusion are resigning as a consequence.