Beyond Black History Month – next steps in the legal profession
The legal profession is not known for being at the forefront of diversity and inclusion, and the graduate careers website Prospect highlights how it still has a great deal of progress to make.
‘Following on from Black History Month, the team at Miles and Partners wanted to gain further insight into the experiences of our Afro-Caribbean colleagues, and what they thought could make a difference,’ says managing partner Kate Hammond.
This is the second of a series of blogs in which a few of our lawyers share their experiences, hopes and advice, to raise awareness of what things need to change in the legal profession and highlight ground that has been gained.
Racial equality needs to be more than a hashtag
Danielle Apenteng is a trainee in in our family law, mental health and mental capacity team. She also has experience in the housing team on homelessness cases and appeals, and possession cases.
For Danielle it is important to understand that diversity and inclusion is not a trend, nor is it a hashtag or a means of marketing. To some that might be all there is to it, but to her it means being seen as an individual with equal ability, as well as for our differences to be embraced and shared.
Doing the right thing
Danielle is a keen public speaker and has spoken at events on the topic of mental health awareness and wellbeing, and she explains that actions are needed to patch up the wounds that adversity and marginalisation have caused. There are many things that make us, as humans, anxious as we go about our days or within our workplaces. These include time pressures, balancing work with family commitments, bills and many more.
However, what some people may not understand is that due to racial inequality, black individuals have one more worry that transcends every area of their life. What people can do to improve diversity is acknowledge the issues black individuals face and understand how they can affect us on a large scale and on a micro level.
Celebrate and value diversity of perspective
For family law solicitor Linda Pope, diversity within the profession is about inclusion. It is extremely important in the legal profession to recognise that people from diverse backgrounds (regardless of race, culture, gender, age, mobility or whether LBGTQ+) have different ways of looking at and solving problems, conducting business and offering professional services.
Diversity helps law firms to understand client’s needs more effectively and increases engagement. In order to survive in today’s competitive market, law firms should represent the diverseness of their clients and their communities. Creating an inclusive culture in which everyone can be themselves – regardless of background, identity and circumstance can reach their full potential – will deliver a great deal of value to law firms and their clients.
Camika Boamah, a trainee solicitor working in mental health and capacity law and family law, highlights how the profession needs to recognise that there are differences between individuals and different groups within society, and how a positive value should be placed on those differences. Ultimately, people’s backgrounds and experiences should be reflected in the professional world as it allows us to see other perspectives, encourages community and ownership.
Drop the stereotypical image of a lawyer
Over the next 5-10 years, Camika would like to see an intentional commitment to prioritising a more diverse workforce. In doing so, experience needs to be offered to young people interested in the profession, who come from lower socio-economic backgrounds. This will ensure that the career trajectories of talented individuals are not negatively affected due to the standard recruitment of the ‘traditional student’.
Partner and expert in children’s law, Lorraine Green acts in a wide variety of local authority care proceedings. For Lorraine, diversity within the profession also means the perception of what a typical legal professional looks like needs to be challenged; with all individuals treated with respect, regardless of their gender, culture, colour, religion and sexual orientation.
Ensure equality of opportunity
Equal opportunities need to be offered based on merit, and it is also Lorraine’s hope that over the next five to ten years we will see more diversity within the judiciary. The effect of this will be that individuals from all walks of life will better identify with those making decisions about them and their loved ones.
Floyd Porter is a mental health and capacity lawyer and is a recognised leader in training and professional development for other lawyers in mental health and Mental Capacity Law. For Floyd, equality means being given the same opportunities because of what he brings to the table, not because of his race.
The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.