Black History Month – Lennons Diversity Committee
Following the tragic death of George Floyd earlier this year, the struggle against racism reverberates around the world.
This week, The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal found all allegations of misconduct proven against Samuel Maurice Charkham, admitted in 1977, and ordered that he pay a fine of £30,000.
According to the Law Society Gazette, Charkham told a racist joke in which he wore a white A4 envelope on his head while in the office, announcing he was in the Ku Klux Klan. Whilst doing so, he walked towards a black employee whilst she was at her desk.
In addition, earlier this year, Alexandra Wilson, a UK barrister was mistaken for a defendant multiple times in court. Alexandra Wilson’s experience has urged many black legal professionals to come forward about their experiences of discrimination.
Birnberg Peirce director, Marcia Willis Stewart QC (Hon), who was mistaken as a defendant’s mother (the Mark Duggan case), highlights this dual pressure on black lawyers, ‘when we’re facing yet another black death… the dual weight as it were of that death’.
The aforementioned experiences have only amplified our necessity to endorse strategies to improve diversity and inclusion around race. During the pandemic, twice as many young and BAME workers have lost their jobs after going on furlough compared with the average. A Resolution Foundation think tank study conducted a survey of 6000 people which identified that 19% of workers aged 18-24 and 22% of Black, Asian and ethnic minority staff have lost their job after being furloughed, compared with 9% of employees overall.
Similarly, the disproportion attrition was further highlighted in Rare Foundation’s ‘closing the ethnicity stay gap’ study in which 6000 anonymised data records were pulled from nine city law firms.
It was discovered that ethnic minority lawyers stay 20% less long than their white counterparts.
As a result of continuing injustices, Natasha Shotunde, a barrister from London established the Black Barristers Network (BBN) last year, an organisation that campaigns for change within the profession to address barriers to entry and progression. She tells the BBC:
“People’s perceptions – that a barrister is a white middle-class man – need to change. We are a diverse profession, but we need to become more diverse, and the perception of what a black person is, the stereotyping, needs to change.”
According to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), ‘3% of the partner population at UK law firms is black and this group makes up 1% of the population at firms where there are 50 or more partners.’ Thus, it is vital that strategies are embedded to aid confidence, career satisfaction and progression.
The president of Law Society, Simon Davis reiterates this by stating that “This type of prejudice highlights the need for us all to reflect on the actions we can take to tackle discrimination. The Law Society is in the process of conducting research into the experiences of our black, Asian and minority ethnic members.”
It is vital that we drive change and be proactive in doing so. Such misrepresentation is believed to be of detriment to consumers as ‘clients expect their lawyers” profile to reflect society.
They demand a credible service that is sensitive and responsive to cultural and racial diversity.” (Black Lawyers Directory Business Case for Race Diversity)
On the 24th September this year, Oxford University announced new scholarships for UK Black or ethnic minority doctoral candidates in Law with the purpose of encouraging more students from these backgrounds to apply. The Dean of the Faculty of Law, Anne Davies openly admits that she is ‘acknowledging that the student body across the University is not as diverse as it should be.’ This scholarship will be available from October 2021.
Subsequently, our diversity team here at Lennons have decided to take a stand. We believe that it is essential that students from underrepresented backgrounds are provided with the same level of support and mentorship to guarantee them a competitive chance in the legal sector.
As a result, we will be introducing a mentoring scheme in 2021 to ensure that, as a firm, we can provide direct outreach to schools and universities, raising awareness and aspirations of students from underrepresented groups. Thus, building their confidence and assisting towards their progression in their legal career. We believe that through this scheme, we can collectively provide a holistic approach to the equality of opportunity available in the legal sector.
At Lennons Solicitors, we are committed to creating a fair and inclusive culture where everyone feels that they belong and are comfortable being themselves. To learn more about our Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Commitee, please click here.