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Former lawyer missed out on pupillage spot because chambers ‘hired a black guy last year’

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The incident — which happened over 30 years ago — will be familiar to every black person looking for a job in industry, says now-entrepreneur Dawid Konotey-Ahulu

A former lawyer has revealed how he was once turned down for pupillage because the chambers had hired a black person the previous year.

According to now entrepreneur Dawid Konotey-Ahulu, the incident happened 33 years ago, when he was 24 and applying for pupillage, having just completed his legal studies at the Inns of Court School of Law (now part of City Law School).

Speaking yesterday on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, he recalled:

“The chambers I applied to said, ‘Look, we like you, we think you’d fit in here. But we hired a black guy last year and we’re not going to do it two years in a row’.”

He continued: “And there I was denied a very basic opportunity to secure a job simply because of my race, because I was black. They literally spelt it out. Those are the sort of kinks in the hosepipe that every black person trying to find a job in industry knows all about.”

Speaking to Legal Cheek, Konotey-Ahulu said this was “the reason I left the bar to work in the City when I completed my pupillage”.

According to his LinkedIn, Konotey-Ahulu later joined Natwest Capital Markets as a derivatives lawyer in 1990. He went onto build a career in investment banking, becoming a managing director at Merrill Lynch, before eventually co-founding pension consultancy firm Redington.

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Konotey-Ahulu’s appearance on the Today programme also marked the launch of his #100blackinterns initiative, which will see 80 leading asset management firms offer 100 paid internships to black candidates as part of efforts to tackle the underrepresentation of black people in British financial institutions. According to a 2018 study by New Financial, there are only 12 black portfolio managers in the entire UK investment management industry.

Konotey-Ahulu also told Legal Cheek that he hopes “every set of chambers and every City law firm” will follow suit and offer an internship to a black candidate next year. He added:

“That’s the only way change is going to come. We have all recently recognised that women have not been treated fairly at work in terms of rightful pay or deserved promotions and we have taken steps to fix that. There is a similar fundamental problem with the way we hire, retain, pay and promote black people and we need to take bold steps to address that.”

Diversity at the bar continues to be an issue, 33 years on from Konotey-Ahulu’s pupillage seeking efforts.

As reported by Legal Cheek earlier this year, The Bar Standard Board’s (BSB) latest diversity report shows that only 14.7% of barristers are BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic), with black people more underrepresented than their mixed race and Asian peers. The figures also found that private education still dominates in chambers, with over half of British-educated QCs attending a fee-paying school.

Meanwhile, as the number of candidates enrolling on the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) hits record highs, the BSB also found that UK/EU bar grads from BAME backgrounds who enrolled from 2014-18 were less likely to have secured pupillage than those from white backgrounds. This year’s recruitment round saw 2,142 people submit at least one application via the Bar Council’s Pupillage Gateway, with just 206 pupillage spots up for grabs.

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