Jane Colston looks at equality, diversity, and the rule of law in legal education
The rule of law is the foundation of a fair society. It is so fundamental that the United Nations (UN) has stated a society in which the rule of law is strengthened should be considered as an outcome of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which contains the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
What is ILBF?
In countries where the rule of law tends to be weaker, access to justice is denied to many. The International Law Book Facility (ILBF), a legal charity founded by Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, seeks to support the rule of law and access to justice for all through sharing legal knowledge. It provides legal textbooks to not-for-profit organisations across the world; the books are used by law students, lawyers and judges to help advance access to justice and the rule of law. The ILBF has distributed more than 72,000 books to over 200 organisations across 54 countries since its foundation.
The ILBF recently celebrated its 15th Anniversary at an event which featured fascinating discussion from speakers including Lord Thomas, Lord Burnett of Maldon, Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, and Professor Richard Susskind OBE on the future of the legal profession and how books and technology can help bridge the justice gap. Professor Susskind noted while 59 per cent of people in the world have access to the internet, only 46 per cent pf people have access to justice. At the event we launched the ILBF’s inaugural law student essay competition, the winner of which will complete a summer internship at international law firm Brown Rudnick next year. The judges include student judges who have the opportunity to work with ILBF trustees, CEO Katrina Crossley, and Brown Rudnick. Lord Thomas and Professor Susskind will pick the ultimate winner, whose essay will be featured in the IBA litigation newsletter. It can be difficult for those from less advantaged backgrounds to secure work placements, as they are less likely to have connections in the legal industry: the ILBF’s competition is an opportunity for all law students to win the internship.
What’s (rule of) law got to do with it?
As diversity, equity and inclusion partner at Brown Rudnick, I am extremely proud to be an ILBF trustee and to be involved in this essay competition. But what does diversity have to do with the ILBF’s mission of advancing the rule of law?
It is well known the profession suffers from a lack of diversity – not just in terms of race and gender – but also background, which is often overlooked as a barrier to entry to the profession. The Solicitors Regulation Authority figures show that 20 per cent of lawyers attended a fee-paying school (this is three times the UK average) and 51 per cent of lawyers have at least one parent with a degree level qualification compared to 19 per cent of the UK working age population. As Lord Burnett said at the ILBF’s event: ‘It’s important the judiciary reflects as best it can the society it serves.’
Broadening access to the legal profession for underrepresented populations will only strengthen the foundational principles of equality under the law and access to justice for all. If we can make the profession more accessible and diverse, then more people will see themselves reflected in it and believe in the legal system’s ability to protect and serve them.
What are you doing?
Brown Rudnick is committed to supporting the increased access of underrepresented populations to the legal profession. We are involved in several social-mobility initiatives in the UK and the US. For example, we collaborate with Brunel University London’s Urban Scholars Programme to provide funding as well as workshops, mentoring and work experience for children aged 12-18 whose parents did not attend university. The programme demonstrates to students from less advantaged backgrounds that careers in the law and other professions are available to them and increases their awareness of the benefits of higher education.
While we have made significant progress in the awareness of issues related to diversity in the legal profession, there is still much more that must be done. Acknowledging the importance of a diverse and representative legal profession is positive. This endeavour is not simply a box-ticking exercise but a vital step in strengthening the rule of law.
Jane Colston is diversity, equity and inclusion partner with Brown Rudnick LLP and trustee of the ILBF: brownrudnick.com. For more information on the ILBF’s essay competition, please visit ILBF Student Essay Competition