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‘I’m a future trainee who is Asian and working class: This is what diversity means to me’

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Shez Anjum reveals how he overcame prejudices to win ‘Trainee of the Year’

Diversity is a broad concept, with many facets to it and different forms. It means a lot to me: being from a working class and a black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) background, I have experienced the challenges and prejudices that come when trying to ‘make it in law’. Yet these difficulties have also acted as a motivation for myself. Firstly to try and prove that despite the obstacles, you can be successful and, secondly, to be part of the drive for change and equality.

I am only at the beginning of my career but in the space of a few years, I have gone from having zero legal experience and starting off as a paralegal, to securing a training contract and winning Trainee/Paralegal of The Year at the 2018 Manchester Legal Awards. The road I travelled has not been smooth, and I have experienced how archaic the legal industry can still be.

Progression is a key issue. Despite there being a large number of talented law students and paralegals from working class or BAME backgrounds, this does not follow through in the vast majority of trainee intakes. This problem becomes more compounded further up the career ladder as those that do qualify often drop out of the profession. Why does this happen? I’m not entirely sure, but I do know of two things that contribute to the problem.

One is lazy recruitment. The tick box exercise of ruling out anyone who did not get straight As and did not attend a Russell Group university has led to some law firms having trainee intakes with the same amount of diversity as an episode of Midsomer Murders.

To address the issue of social mobility, consideration has to be given to the fact that people from a disadvantaged background experience their biggest difficulties at the beginning of their lives and this usually impacts on their ability to fulfil their potential while undertaking their GCSEs and A-Levels. This results in people already way behind the start line falling even further behind, all before their career has even started.

Graduate recruiters and HR departments of law firms need to make a positive effort to address this issue and look at alternative methods of recruitment. It is all well and good sticking one of the few BAME candidates that have been recruited on the front cover of brochures, to showcase the firm’s ‘commitment to diversity’, but until recruitment methods are changed, the vast majority of talented individuals from diverse backgrounds will continue to be overlooked.

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The other issue is the attitude of some members of the industry. I have been lucky to come across many inspirational and positive role models throughout my career so far. I work for a firm with a wonderful inclusive environment that has been cultivated by its people and has recognised what I have to offer. However, I have also experienced the prejudices and difficulties of this industry.

Being from a BAME or a working class background, you are constantly having to fight against preconceived conceptions, with the focus being on trying to survive in this industry. Opportunities are harder to come by and until you have proven yourself, you definitely have to do more than colleagues from advantageous backgrounds to earn the same chance, even if you are more deserving or better suited to the opportunity.

Then there is the elephant in the room, a topic not many people are willing to discuss: discrimination.

Thankfully, this is far from widespread and attitudes are changing. However, it is still a major reason why people from BAME backgrounds drop out from the profession. You only have to read the comments in a Legal Cheek article on diversity in law, or the vile comments in the group chat of law students from the University of Exeter which has recently come to light, to see archaic views are still in existence. Personally, early on in my career, I have experienced situations that range on the spectrum. From the mild, of having a colleague say ‘You’re Asian, the women in your family will know good places to get eyebrows done!’, to the more severe.

As a profession we need to accept that there is still an attitude issue, which must be addressed. By addressing, I don’t mean having the HR and marketing departments come up with a catchy slogan on diversity to tweet, but by driving real change and setting up diverse (in all senses of the word) teams, that can grow and learn together, while nurturing an inclusive environment. The cities that we work in are diverse and vibrant, yet not all the offices of law firms in these cities reflect that.

Coming from a diverse background does not mean you are the best person for the job and you should be given the opportunity, but it does certainly mean that you are more likely to be overlooked and will have more challenges and difficulties to prove that you should be given an opportunity. Is it too much to ask for a level playing field? To be judged on talent and work ethic and not the circumstances that we were born into.

I have, like many others from a similar background, had to work harder and overcome many obstacles. You have to be resilient, motivated, determined but most importantly you have to believe because hard work always shines through. Despite the difficulties, if you are talented (although it may take you longer) you will create an opportunity to prove yourself and you shall have success in this industry. Take it from someone who was written off, who went from starting his legal career way behind the rest of the pack, to winning Trainee/Paralegal of The Year at the 2018 Manchester Legal Awards. If I can do it then you can too. However, this should not be the norm!

My journey in law has only just started, but along with the many other people from a similar background doing the same, we will strive for progress and change every step of the way, while looking to inspire the boys and girls who we once used to be. All I ask the next generation to do is dream big, because a path of change is being paved and they can aspire to be brilliant, aim higher and not give in to the same doubts that previous generations did.

We are seeing in other industries how game changers from diverse backgrounds are redefining their sector and the same is starting to happen in law. They are looking to disturb the status quo and not only open the door into the industry but knock it flat down and create a level playing field, where the first thought will no longer be about surviving but rather thriving.

Shez Anjum is a future trainee at a medium sized law firm based in the North West. He has a particular interest in increasing diversity and breaking down barriers to entry in the legal industry.

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121 Comments

Anonymous

Dressing up in the costume of the white upper class is the best way to promote diversity, non?

#culturalappropriation

(57)(106)

Anonymous

what has that got to do with anything?

(66)(9)

Anonymous

White kid in turban or dreadlocks isn’t ok.

Why is this?

(14)(42)

Anonymous

I thought it was Sasha Baron Cohen’s latest incarnation AIEEEEEE!

(4)(0)

Anonymous

😆😆😆😆😆😆😆😆💩

Lord Denning

You’re just bitter because Law has a new poster boy, who is smart, stylish, good looking and just happens to be from a BAME background.

Shez Anjum, you’ve created quite the impression. I’m in no doubt, you are the future of this industry!

(53)(2)

Anonymous

You can add poor dress sense to the list of barriers mate. Seriously.

(61)(107)

Anonymous

I like his style

(91)(6)

Anonymous

I like his face

(78)(1)

Belinda

I like his eyes.

(74)(0)

Fangirl

He’s the legal industries Zayn Malik. I think I’m in love with him #Hot

Anonymous

He’s beautiful 😍

Anonymous

Then grab a round of drinks with him at some hipster bar where you sit on crates and drink cocktails from teacups or mason jars or whatever stupid nonsense is popular in East London these days.

Whilst doing that, get the lad to buy a dinner suit so he doesn’t look like a complete douche at future black tie events.

(5)(61)

Anonymous

Great article on an important topic! Ignore the comments and well done on putting yourself out there and doing this piece.

(103)(26)

Anonymous

I agree!

(40)(4)

DustyWig

1. Should recruiters select only the best candidate irrespective of alleged obstacles allegedly overcome?

2. If not, by what criteria should they judge the inevitable contest of special pleading and woe-is-me victimhood?

(51)(17)

Libeturd Leftie

He who feels it knows it…

You characterisation of “victimhood” belies your very pointed perspective.

I would rather have someone who has risen and grown in spite of the obstacles than someone who has better grades, but is TRIGGERED by the slightest of obstacles.

See I too can generalise and spew a myopic point of view

(18)(9)

s.32 Salmon Act 1986

The fact that your comment has attracted (at time of writing) 9 downvotes, but no responses, is a nice illustration of the problem with the victim pyramid. Even those who are willing to downvote criticisms of it can’t come up with reasoned defences for it.

(15)(1)

Anonymous

Nobody cares to educate you love.

(7)(10)

Anonymous

Translation: “I have no rational argument to offer, so I’m going to pretend that I do but that’s it’s beneath me to provide it.”

Try again, love.

(34)(1)

Anonymous

yep. nail. head. hit

Anonymous

I found a spit of time, I’m taking a break from coursework

Find attached a report on social mobility. The table on page 58 quite usefully shows how social mobility impacts youths through opportunities, which are located (overwhelmingly) in London due to their proximity to wealth. As you move out from London (and opportunities) you notice cold spots of social mobility developing.

It does not take a great deal of thinking to consequently identify the experience of disadvantaged minorities who have been successful as outstanding, then a) prefer to give them jobs in a field of pasty white boys and b) invest in recruiting from disadvantaged minorities because those candidates are often (at least) harder workers than their more privileged colleagues in law schools.

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/662744/State_of_the_Nation_2017_-_Social_Mobility_in_Great_Britain.pdf

For additional confirmation see the works of Toni Morrison or Alan Bates, love.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

*Bennett, not Bates.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

A very interesting and insightful article. It would be nice to see the legal industry taking heed to redress the balance and appointing on a meritocratic basis

(34)(3)

Anonymous

“future trainee at a medium sized law firm based in the North West”

Sounds thicc.

(40)(45)

Anonymous

I’ve worked with Shez he’s one of the most bright, motivated and affable people I’ve had the pleasure of working with, he’d run rings around you for fun. Whilst he’s busy fulfilling his promising potential, all you can do is troll and leave pathetic comments, so bore off!

(43)(19)

Anonymous

Brightest

(14)(2)

Anonymous

Yes he is!

(22)(0)

Anonymous

Refreshing and inspiring to see someone openly speak up about the challenges and obstacles they’ve not only faced, but also overcome to get to where they are. There’s definitely a bright future ahead for you.

(49)(27)

Anonymous

As an ethnic person entering law this is an inspiring and motivating piece to read. Thank you!

(55)(35)

Anonymous

Yes because ethnic minorities are not allowed to enter the legal profession…

(8)(3)

Just Anonymous

“One is lazy recruitment. The tick box exercise of ruling out anyone who did not get straight As and did not attend a Russell Group university has led to some law firms having trainee intakes with the same amount of diversity as an episode of Midsomer Murders.”

If there are special circumstances which impact on a candidate’s grades, then those should certainly be taken to account.

Such circumstances might include severe illness, or the death of a loved one.

However, the author appears to be suggesting that the mere fact of being BAME should be considered a ‘special circumstance:’ ie, that we cannot assume that the grades of any BAME candidate truly reflect their actual potential.

I find this an uncomfortable and untenable proposition. I think that BAME individuals are perfectly capable of competing with non-BAME individuals on an equal footing, and should be treated as such.

(95)(72)

Anonymous

Think you’ve completely missed the point mate. But it’s always good to see a non-BAME person dismiss the concept of their inherent privilege and tell BAME people how they should feel and be treated. Please, don’t let our opposition to structural racism get in the way of your comfort…

(63)(66)

Just Anomymous

And you know I’m non-BAME because…

(44)(9)

Anonymous

Can we please stop using the ridiculous term BAME. It’s a joke that could only have emanated from Britain.

(7)(2)

Anonymous

Brits love their acronyms. It somehow makes them think they’re being less offensive for referring to someone as a “BAME applicant” rather than the obvious.

“Oh look, we have our regular applicants and a black applicant!”

Doesn’t sound as polite, does it?

BAME!

🎼I wanna live for-ever!🎶

(17)(0)

Anonymous

…BAME individuals aren’t on an equal footing (socioeconomically – don’t start) with non-BAME individuals. Ever heard of the Equality Act 2010, love?

(1)(24)

CMS Associate

I’ve come across Shez on the other side of a transaction. A charming and bright young man, with a very promising future ahead of him.

Well done sir.

(52)(41)

Trumpenminion

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(2)(3)

Anonymous

That’s an interesting and motivational topic to others who are interesting to win well done!!

(14)(11)

Lord Wombleby, QC

I haven’t met the guy, but he does strike me as a hardworking, good chap.

Best of luck to him I say!

(29)(15)

CABRON

AY CARAMBA

(1)(0)

Bounty Hunter

Congrats Shez – Absolutely brilliant article. In the words of Ghandi – ‘In a gentle way, you can shake the world’.

(22)(15)

Anonymous

It’s Gandhi.

(8)(5)

Anonymous

Actually, it’s મોહનદાસ કરમચંદ ગાંધી

(18)(17)

Anonymous

Someone’s discovered the cookies trick!

(2)(0)

Anonymous

What an inspiring article by a promising young man. Please if ignore the negative comments. To be part of something bigger than yourself, like promoting diversity, you need to think outside the box. Change starts with 1 individual and goes on to the next.

This means that, a few may disagree here and there but in the long run, together we can make that change.

Society today represents diversity, and sooner or later the law industry will reflect that. Thank you for your courageous attitude and ability to share your views.

(26)(26)

Anonymous

Couldn’t agree more with this comment, so well put.
It’s ridiculous that it has so many thumbs down!

(17)(0)

Anonymous

Actually, ‘asians’ tend to have better academic results than other ethnic groups:

https://www2.le.ac.uk/offices/press/think-leicester/education/2016/against-the-odds-ethnic-minority-students-are-excelling-at-school
https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/439867/RR439B-Ethnic_minorities_and_attainment_the_effects_of_poverty_annex.pdf.pdf

I don’t think that recruiters are (consciously or subconsciously) discriminating. From experience, being bi-lingual, which are lot of asians are, seems to be beneficial n obtaining training contracts and vacation schemes.

(27)(6)

Anonymous

The clue is in the title of the article – ‘against the odds’.

(4)(7)

Anonymous

The writer of this article states that poor grades/failing to attend a Russell Group University prevents the inclusion of ethnic minorities in the legal sector.

I simply don’t think this is true for asian minorities.

(19)(10)

Anonymous

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(0)(0)

Chippy white bloke

In 2016, 31% of new admissions to the roll were BAME compared to roughly 14% of the population as a whole. Yes the proportion of BAME among younger people (the relevant age range for these entry positions) is probably higher, but (a) its still not 31% and (b) that means the smaller number of BAME people in senior roles (who would be older) isn’t as shocking as advertised.

Coupled with the fact that 61% of new admissions were female and you struggle to see the “disadvantage” these groups face, whilst ending up with a situation where “diversity” initiatives aimed at increasing female and BAME representation at junior levels of law firms are, at best, misplaced.

With regards people going to a worse school (I would rather not use “working class” as this suggests their lack of early educational achievement is not due to the education they received but some preconceived idea that “certain people can’t get good grades no matter where they go”), its tough, they are underrepresented, but if you don’t use academic grades, cultural fit, education received, work experience and extra-curriculars (all areas where rich kids have an advantage) what else can you use as an effective proxy for career success with a student?

Interested to hear feedback/be called a racist.

Ciao x

https://www.sra.org.uk/documents/SRA/research/diversity-legal-profession.pdf

(48)(16)

Triggered Loon

STOP CITING FACTS THAT CONTRADICT MY TOTALLY IRRATIONAL AND UNEVIDENCED FEELINGS.

BAME PEOPLE EXPERIENCE HORRIFIC PERSECUTION, AND EVERY VIRTUOUS PERSON KNOWS IT!!

(43)(6)

Anonymous

tl;dr I’m boring

Why so pressed, love?

(0)(12)

Chippy white bloke

Considering 3 paragraphs too long and boring to read is not a fantastic trait for an aspiring lawyer m9…

(6)(3)

Anonymous

tl;dr is used by kindly denizens of the internet to save other people the time of reading something they, themselves, have already read. Just helping out, love.

And by the way – while what you wrote was, indeed, boring, my tl;dr focused instead on the fact that you yourself seem to be a black hole of boring the arse off people in the kitchen at parties.

(0)(1)

Anonymous

you may not be a racist but by your own admission (almost) you are a b ell end

(2)(11)

Not. Guiltay.

Couldn’t agree more. Chip pon de shoulder.

(1)(2)

Anonymous

It’s Gandhi.

(4)(1)

Anonymous

It’s મોહનદાસ કરમચંદ ગાંધી

(6)(7)

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