May 2022 marked two years since the unlawful killing of George Floyd sparked international outrage and acted as a catalyst for racism to be highlighted as a global problem that needs to be examined and addressed urgently.
One consequence of this movement is that the racial justice and equality agenda has become more widely recognised as being a key element in businesses’ broader diversity and inclusion activities. In the legal advice sector, clients are increasingly demanding to see what strategy and progress the firms they award work to are making to combat racism. A failure to focus on this area can have a direct impact both on a firm’s opportunities to benefit from diverse ideas, experiences and contributions, and on its bottom line.
For positive change to happen, it must be prioritised and championed by senior leadership. At Lewis Silkin, our Chair, Jo Evans, has been clear that improving diversity and inclusion across the legal profession is critically important, and that everyone needs to participate for change to be substantial and lasting. This kind of signalling indicates a seriousness of intent and can encourage people at all levels within a firm and beyond to take steps to move the agenda forward.
We have also put structures in place to ensure ongoing engagement with racial justice and equality issues. In 2018 we established an internal Race and Ethnicity group, which has an evolving set of objectives and activities. Some of these are broad objectives that we as a firm are aiming to reach by setting milestones for, and generally reviewing, on a rolling basis. Other activities are run on an annual calendar basis. The group is one strand of our internal diversity and inclusion work, which includes a Diversity Board and other groups covering Gender, Social Mobility, LGBTQ+, Disability and Wellbeing, and Interfaith.
We are also participating in ILPA’s Racial Justice and Equality Working Group to be able to gain insight into what other firms’ priorities and activities are, to share knowledge and to contribute to moving this agenda forward across ILPA member organisations.
Below are examples of our Race & Ethnicity group’s previous and ongoing initiatives. Other ILPA members may find these helpful when developing their strategy on racial justice and equality work.
- Since September 2020, we have run a Solicitor Apprenticeship Scheme. This is part of our commitment to widen access to the legal profession by supporting alternative routes to qualification. It is a significant commitment for us and means that over a two-year period a minimum of 15% of our training lawyers will be apprentices. Our Race and Ethnicity and Social Mobility groups reviewed the assessment questions and mark schemes at each stage of our Solicitor Apprenticeship recruitment process to ensure they did not pose any barriers to applicants from diverse backgrounds. The scheme was highlighted as one of the factors in our firm winning Accenture’s Outside Counsel Diversity Award in June 2022.
- We have a schedule of activities for key annual events such as Holocaust Memorial Day, Windrush Day, Black History Month, and Islamophobia Awareness Month. Past activities have included:
- A firmwide event hosted by two Lewis Silkin partners titled ‘An Open Conversation on Race and Racism’
- Publishing external and internal website and email communications
- Book and podcast clubs discussing issues relating to selected events and providing a safe space for colleagues to ask questions and listen
- Posting internal screensavers highlighting details of historical figures and achievements of the group being celebrated
- Raising awareness of diverse businesses and charities; and
- Sharing blogs written by colleagues to raise awareness of the lived experience.
- In August 2020 we launched firmwide Anti-Racism and Allyship training focusing on issues around race and ethnicity. Participation in this training module is compulsory for existing staff and new joiners. All staff members must complete it before they are eligible to be considered for a promotion. In October 2021 we launched a follow up session for all members of staff focusing on allyship and micro-aggressions. Further training phases are being planned.
- Anti-Racism and Allyship training additional to our existing online Unconscious Bias training course for senior leaders, sessions on Appropriate Language for all staff, and online Equality and Diversity training for all new staff. These training modules have been updated to be more explicit on race issues and language.
- We have established a ‘reverse mentoring’ scheme for senior staff looking to increase their understanding of race issues by having regular mentoring sessions with a colleague from an ethnic minority group. The scheme has recently been refreshed to enable more mentoring pairs to be incorporated.
- We have joined the Black Solicitors Network as part of our commitment to achieving equality of access and progression of Black solicitors.
- We are discussing diversity and inclusion with recruitment agencies with a view to sourcing ethnically diverse talent at all levels.
- We use contextual recruitment and the Rare Vantage Tool for training contract and apprenticeship roles, and to source candidates for our annual Spring Workshop. This enables us to enter precise search criteria and to pinpoint specific candidates or candidate groups. We can ‘search’ for candidates using several filters including, but not limited to, ethnicity, gender, disadvantaged postcode and time spent in care.
- We set our first ethnic diversity targets for our UK offices in March 2022. We are looking closely at progression within the firm for ethnic minority staff and will be publishing data on our ethnic pay distribution reporting.
- We have a ‘One for One’ scheme to provide quality work experience to candidates from socioeconomically disadvantaged and/or ethnically diverse backgrounds who may otherwise struggle to gain experience in law. We have longstanding relationships with schools in London and are working closely with them to source these candidates.
- We regularly send internal firmwide communications to provide progress updates on initiatives that are being worked on.
ILPA’s Racial Justice and Equality Working Group focuses on working to improve access to the sector to counter the limited diversity among immigration practitioners, particularly in senior roles, to address the systemic racism prevalent in the sector within immigration systems and workplaces, and to help foster a more welcoming environment for racialised practitioners. ILPA members can sign up to the Racial Justice and Equality Working Group here. Additionally, members can access ILPA’s anti-racism resource page which is continuously updated with new resources (including a new glossary of terms) on ILPA’s website here.