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17 City law firms pledge to ‘identify and attack’ career obstacles facing BAME lawyers

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New ‘data-driven’ approach

A large cluster of City law firms have announced today that they will use data analysis to improve the recruitment and retention rates of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) lawyers.

As part of the Race Fairness Commitment (RFC), an initiative launched by London-based diversity specialist Rare Recruitment, “data-driven techniques” will analyse and monitor the legal careers of BAME lawyers — from recruitment to senior promotion. Using this data, law firms can then “identify and attack the points at which BAME lawyers are unfairly falling behind their peers”.

Data analysed will look at the differences between BAME and white groups in application to interview rates; interview to offer rates; pay; and promotion rates. According to Rare Recruitment, the data analysis looks at ‘BAME’ collectively, but also provides a separate breakdown for two categories: black and other ethnic minorities.

The RFC has been signed by 17 City law firms, including all members of the magic circle — Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Freshfields, Linklaters and Slaughter and May. Also joining the diversity initiative are Ashurst, Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, DWF, Dentons, Herbert Smith Freehills, Hogan Lovells, Macfarlanes, Norton Rose Fulbright, Pinsent Masons, RPC, Travers Smith and White & Case.

These firms have also committed to taking steps to create a more inclusive workplace, where BAME lawyers can be themselves, “without feeling the need to be inauthentic in terms of their speech or culture, simply in order to ‘fit in'”. According to research conducted by Rare, BAME lawyers spend on average 20% less time at firms than their white co-workers before leaving.

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Measures include asking staff at least once a year whether they ‘can be themselves at work’, and ensuring racism is discussed in every induction and exit interview. Meanwhile, junior ethnic minority lawyers will have access to senior management, with a view where possible to creating sponsorship, mentoring and reverse mentoring programmes.

Roy Appiah, senior associate at Clifford Chance and Rare alumnus, said:

“Clifford Chance is undoubtedly a great place to work and I am very fortunate and privileged to do so. However, as a Black or ethnic minority lawyer, you are never too far away from reminders that the firm, and the industry, were not designed for people like you to rise to the top. These reminders come in many forms, like having your security pass checked twice to enter work, or being invited to training about what leadership looks like where none of the dozen speakers look like you.”

According to Ngozie Azu, head of international relations at Slaughter and May and Rare alumnus, the initiative will encourage law firms to take a more personal approach to diversity.

“How does it actually feel to be Black in a firm like this? There will always be areas of differences — for example my unusual name, my hair and how I spend my leisure time,” said Azu. “The challenge for firms is to ensure that they are creating an environment in which everyone can bring their most authentic selves to work without fear that our differences will mark us out or impact our ability to succeed.”

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