Diversity is a hot topic in the legal profession currently. With magic circle firms employing blind CV techniques and the Legal Education and Training Review encouraging the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and Bar Standards Board (BSB) to widen participation in the profession it is evident, on the surface, that fairness is to some extent at the forefront of employers’ minds. Unfortunately this does not mean that equality within the legal profession has been established yet; far from it. For this reason, on Thursday 13 March 2014, the University of Birmingham kindly hosted and invited the students of Birmingham City University along to a debate surrounding diversity, with a ‘Question Time’ styled panel event.
The primary purpose of the event was to gauge how deeply rooted the diversity divide is within the legal profession, explain to students what they can expect to face and to help them understand ways in which they can avoid such prejudices themselves whilst actively furthering equality for aspiring lawyers.
On the panel were five professionals. Smita Jamdar (Partner and Head of Education at SGH Martineau LLP), Nwabueze Nwokolo (Solicitor and Midlands Chair of the Black Solicitors Network), Matthew Green (Policyworks and the Uprising project), Angela Henry (Henry Browne Solicitors), Chris White (founder of Aspiring Solicitors) and Professor Hilary Sommerlad (Director of CEPLER, Birmingham Law School). Each panel member was seemingly chosen for their individual attributes and experiences be it race, gender, religion, socioeconomic background or sheer enthusiasm to positively change the legal profession.
It is well recognised that white males make up a majority of the legal profession, but it was not simply race and sex that were covered in this debate. It would seem that the diversity divide is much greater, encompassing religion, socioeconomic background and disability, to name but a few of the additional areas that were covered.
Many students engaged with the mini lectures each panel member presented, evidenced by the range of well articulated questions that followed (so much so that the session ended with many questions still remaining). It was interesting to see how something so small as an accent could identify you to a particular class, area or race for which your treatment could potentially be less favourable. Hot topics of the evening though were race, gender and religion. It was particularly reassuring to see such enthusiasm from established legal professionals for creating greater equality within the profession and hopefully the current Birmingham City University and University of Birmingham students will contribute to the new generation of lawyers with similar enthusiasm.
Not only was the event a useful insight in to the functioning of the legal profession and the hurdles that many of us will face trying to enter it, but it also provided a platform for students to network, something equally as important as understanding the difficulties that we will face. What particularly stuck with me was the enthusiasm of Chris White, who taught us all that there is a growing number of opportunities for those who are affected adversely by the lack of diversity in lawyers and that, whilst it’s going to be tough, where there’s determination, there’s a way in to the profession. Utilising the Aspiring Solicitors online network and event opportunities will be my next point of call!
Hopefully this event is the first of many joint operations between the University of Birmingham and Birmingham City University helping to boost the success of all hopeful Birmingham lawyers alike!
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