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Jean-Yves Gilg

Editor, Solicitors Journal

Valuing diversity increasingly important for lawyers

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Valuing diversity increasingly important for lawyers

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UK Diversity Legal Awards enters seventh year as profession strives for greater inclusion

UK Diversity Legal Awards enters seventh year as profession strives for greater inclusion

With a plethora of research showing that the legal profession remains male, pale, and stale, lawyers have been encouraged to showcase their contributions to greater diversity within the profession ahead of the Black Solicitors Network's (BSN) annual awards show.

Now in its seventh year, the UK Diversity Legal Awards are the only industry awards to solely focus on recognising, promoting, and celebrating equality, diversity, and inclusion across the profession.

The awards are open to all organisations and submissions are welcomed from individuals, law firms, chambers, in-house legal teams, and suppliers to the profession who celebrate all aspects of diversity, including social mobility, gender, ethnicity, disabilities, and sexual orientation.

An independent judging panel will select the winners, with a list of finalists published in early October. The winners will be announced at a ceremony in November to celebrate their achievements, share best practice and champion diversity and inclusion throughout the legal profession.

The big winners at last year's awards included Hogan Lovells and Linklaters for best recruitment and retention of talent, respectively, with the Magic Circle outfit also taking home a gong for best City firm.

Meanwhile, Fasken Martineau and Freeths took home the awards for best international firm and firm of the year, respectively. Coram Chambers was honoured with the chambers of the year award.

The winner of the BSN rising star award was Reed Smith associate Shaunée James, while the lifetime achievement award was presented to Walter H. White Jr, a London-based partner at US firm McGuire Woods.

'Valuing diversity is becoming increasingly important for businesses and the legal profession is no exception,' said Paulette Mastin, chair of the BSN's City branch and co-chair of Linklaters's BAME network.

'These awards are an excellent opportunity to showcase individuals and organisations that have made a significant contribution to engender greater diversity across the breadth of the legal profession and inspire others to follow their lead.'

An increase in the numbers of BAME lawyers in the legal profession is proceeding at a glacial pace, with the BSN's 2015 diversity league table likening the journey of ethnic minority lawyers up the career ladder to an 'Egyptian pyramid'.

The representation of BAME among practising solicitors stands at 15.5 per cent, according to the latest annual statistics from the Law Society. In law firms, just 8.6 per cent of partners are from an ethnic minority background, while female partners at City firms stands at less than 25 per cent. Gender quotas for female partnership remain a controversial proposal to level the playing field, with almost half of lawyers believing such an enforced scheme would be ineffective.

The Bar has also been found wanting. Research from the Bar Standards Board (BSB) showed that aspiring barristers are hindered by their gender and ethnicity when seeking pupillages, with the findings suggesting white graduates are more successful than their BAME counterparts.

At the senior Bar, official figures from the Bar Council show that just 5.5 per cent of QCs are BAME, despite 20.5 per cent of pupils coming from the same background.

A separate damning report published by the BSB in July showed that over 40 per cent of female barristers claim to have experienced bullying, with work allocation and 'favouritism' from clerks or management towards certain barristers highlighted.

In a recent article for Solicitors Journal, barrister Tunde Okewale MBE, who received the 2014 BSN diversity champion award, said: 'To facilitate change and improve the retention and progression of candidates from diverse backgrounds, the focus needs to be on inclusion.

'The big question is: are we trying to assimilate people from diverse backgrounds into the established norms of the profession or are we trying to change the culture of profession? I believe the answer should be the latter.'

Meanwhile, former barrister Miranda Brawn told SJ that the legal profession will struggle to embrace diversity and inclusion until 'those with the power to change things are forced to be more self-reflective about the importance of an all-inclusive cadre of lawyers serving community needs'.

'We need to ensure that all potential for bias is eradicated and that the legal profession is doing everything to encourage under-represented groups to apply,' she added.

The closing date for award entries is 9 September 2016 with the finalists announced in early October 2016. The awards ceremony will be held on 22 November 2016 at the Grange Tower Bridge Hotel.

Solicitors Journal is proud to be a media partner of the UK Diversity Legal Awards 2016.

John van der Luit-Drummond is deputy editor for Solicitors Journal john.vanderluit@solicitorsjournal.co.uk | @JvdLD

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