Diversity isn’t working, says Somali refugee who beat odds to become a barrister

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By Katie King on

Hashi Mohamed was raised exclusively on state benefits, and he believes open recruitment has made ‘little if any difference’

A barrister who moved to London as an unaccompanied child refugee aged nine and was raised “exclusively on benefits” has said that “‘diversity’ and ‘open recruitment’ have tried but made little if any difference.”

These controversial words are those of No5 Chambers barrister Hashi Mohamed, a commercial litigation and public law specialist of seven years call. Despite his rags to riches success story, he believes that those in the top professions, like the bar, “naturally recruit in their own image.” This means that the vast majority are excluded from accessing these top professions.

This belief comes despite a swathe of law firm and chambers-led diversity initiatives. In the past few years, law firms in particular have been ultra-conscious of their gender and ethnic make-up, many publishing female partner targets. Though chambers have been notably less regimented here, the introduction of nurseries for barristers’ babies and bar-specific LGBT networks, for example, shows there is some appetite for change.

Other contentious points to feature in Oxford graduate Mohamed’s The Guardian piece include his scepticism about the value of hard work. He believes ‘hard work = upwards social mobility’ is a complete myth. So much more is required, such as luck, the right teachers at the right time and sustained stability, which he implies is what got him to the top. He continues:

Is my route possible for anyone in the next generation with whom I share a similar background? I believe not.

Mohamed’s piece, ‘Telling children ‘hard work gets you to the top’ is simply a lie’, finishes with a nugget of advice. Straying from the more common ‘just be yourself’ line, the former BBC broadcast journalist who did his pupillage at 39 Essex Street before joining No5, believes:

You need to find the right way to speak to different people, at different times in different contexts.

This was a theme explored at length by Mohamed, whose family is from Somalia, in his BBC Radio 4 documentary Adventures in Social Mobility.

Here, Mohamed admitted that during his pupillage hunt he spoke to former 2 Temple Gardens director and friend Elizabeth Rantzen about how to “improve his fit”.

Rantzen explained that barristers are often very cultured people, who like to share “fine wine, maybe football, often cricket and very often opera” with their colleagues. If you share these interests, it’s easier to establish a relationship with your future chamber mates. She went as far as to take Mohamed to a classic music concert with her, which he believes “widened his job prospects.”

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