Race and the Legal Profession

Where Are We Today and When Did the Journey Begin?

In the first of an annual round table series examining race equality within the legal profession, our panel seeks to examine the current issues and debates facing Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) lawyers, and we launch a new project to rediscover the lives of the first BAME lawyers.

Session 1

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This session focused on the importance of diversity at the Bar which cannot be overstated. It ensures we have access to the widest pool of talent and gives the public faith that they are well served by the justice system. The 2019 Bar Standards Board’s Diversity at the Bar report stated that BAME barristers made up 13.6% of the Bar as a whole.

The Bar Standard’s Board’s September 2020 publication detailing the impact of COVID-19 on pupillage revealed that:

  • BAME candidates are more likely than white candidates to get taken on by smaller AETO’s which are less able to stand the impact of COVID-19;
  • BAME barristers are more likely to be in publicly funded areas and 55% earn more than half their income form legal aid work compared to 47% of white barristers;
  • 44.4% of BAME barristers declared earnings of £60k or less compared to 29.6% of white barristers.

Those headline statistics, while not acknowledging the wide diversity of experiences within the ‘BAME’ umbrella, do highlight urgent problems for the Bar. So, what can and should the Bar and institutions of the legal profession do to ensure equality and inclusivity? We invited black and ethnic minority lawyers to contribute to the round table discussion and address the challenges of practice; we hope to provide a platform on which to share visions for redesigning a more diverse and inclusive legal profession.

Participants were invited to discuss themes including but not limited to:

  • Racism within the legal profession
  • Legal identity
  • The legal conceptualisation of discrimination
  • Obstacles to equal opportunity within the legal profession
  • Solutions to discrimination and lack of diversity

Speakers

Chair and plenary speaker, Sibghatullah Kadri QC: ‘The State of the Bar with Regards to Race Relations in the Early 1970s and the Founding of the Society of Afro-Asian and Caribbean Lawyers Which Later Became the Society of Black Lawyers.’
Professor Leslie Thomas QC (Barrister, Garden Court Chambers): ‘Experiences of Working at the Modern Bar, Practice and the State of Race Relations at the Bar Today’.
Bibi Badejo (Barrister, 4 Brick Court) presented a picture of her work in chambers as a black woman working at the Bar tracking her own career.
Professor Iyiola Solanke (University of Leeds) on her experiences of working as a legal academic.

Session 2

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The second part of the day focused on 'Recovering the Past: First and Early Black and Ethnic Minority Lawyers', and we launched the project 'Recovering Lost Lives from the Archives'. Legal history can help improve racial equality at the Bar. It can challenge damaging racial stereotypes and provide a record of the true progress of black and ethnic minority lawyers, rather than rely on myths and legends.

Speakers

Chair: Avis Whyte (University of Westminster)
Judith Bourne (St. Mary’s University) outlined the project and intended outputs.
Caroline Derry (OU) and Judith Bourne: ‘Lessons Learned from Researching First Women Lawyers’
1Alex May (ODNB): ‘The Importance of Biography’
Eduardo Reyes (Editor, Law Society Gazette): ‘The Importance of Publishing History’
Carrie de Silva (Harper Adams University), Dominic Carrington (University of Northampton), Avis Whyte and Judith Bourne, with the archivists of the 4 Inns of Court launched the project on ‘Recovering Lost Lives from the Archives’. Legal history has a part to play in improving racial equality at the Bar, through challenging damaging myths and racial stereotypes and providing a record of pioneer black and ethnic minority lawyers.