The concepts of ‘diversity and inclusion’ are central to the legal industry and every law student is expected to be conscious of them. Whether students come across these concepts in an application question or whether it is through the constant mention of these concepts on LinkedIn posts, it is certain that every law student knows about them. The question is how much they actual understand them. For the sake of the future of the legal industry, it is important to have this understanding. Additionally, in knowing about these concepts, the question of how to be engaged with them at the lower levels of one’s career still remains. Through this article, these increasingly important concepts will be explained and the reasons why you should be concerned with them will be presented. Finally, a brief mention of organisations that are dedicated to driving these concepts forward within the industry will be presented.
Diversity is the concept that encompasses all the different aspects of a person such as race, sexual orientation, gender and physical and mental capabilities, to name a few. In the legal industry, this is important because a diverse legal representation brings about a wide range of perspectives to the challenges presented. Try to imagine a situation whereby every person who works for a firm is exactly the same: they think and act the same way. How then would complex situations be solved effectively? Certainly, a solution would result, but would it be the best one? Probably not. The importance of diversity rests upon this very fact. As of 2019, the diversity statistics in law firms across the United Kingdom stated that 49% of lawyers are women, 21% are BAME and 3% are disabled. Despite the seemingly balanced gender question, the factors of ethnicity and physical and mental capabilities is rather alarming. There is evidently the need for an increase in those figures to ensure a well-rounded and effective legal industry.
What then ensures that diverse individuals play an active role in the organisations they are in? The answer to this is the concept of inclusion that is constantly tied to diversity. The two are tied together because the two cannot function effectively alone and therefore co-exist. Inclusion is the function by which all parties in an organisation are involved in conversations that are pertinent to the organisations, despite their differences. One may even go as far in stating that inclusion is because of one’s differences and not in spite of them. Inclusivity embraces diverse personalities and qualities, involving them in the conversation to foster a deeper understanding and appreciation of what may be before a group of people.
The importance of diversity and inclusion in the legal sector is increasingly relevant as law students become more diverse. Law is one of the most diverse degree classifications in the UK with over a third of law students being from ethnic minority backgrounds. The concepts of diversity and inclusion work together to ensure that the best talent is sourced and that these law students are assured of access to the industry should they decide to qualify and practice. Another aspect to be considered is that the legal sector is heavily client reliant. As globalization continues to diversify the world, we come across several types of clients with a wide range of problems and the more diverse the team of practitioners, the better equipped to handle the situation we are. One of the most fundamental parts of being a legal practitioner is understanding your client and by diversifying the representation and ensuring inclusivity, legal representatives are better placed to understand the client and ensure that the trust that will maintain this relationship is preserved.
As a law student or recent graduate there are many ways you can encourage diversity and inclusion. First and foremost, you can ensure that your university encourages this through society representation. The two co-founders of BAME Nation, were instrumental of in the founding of the BAME Law Initiative at the University of Exeter and there’s no better example of enforcing change where you are, with what you have. There are several options for you to start campaigns of your own that encourage diversity and inclusion on your way to the top. Lucky for law students today, there are a number of effective organisations that are working to ensure that you, as a BAME student have access to the industry and promote diversity . A few of these effective platforms include: Aspiring Solicitors, the Interlaw Diversity Forum, SEO London, UpReach, Black solicitors Network and Rare Recruitment. These organisations encourage diversity through engaging with students, providing opportunities to be a part of the change as agents or serve as beneficiaries. They are all different in their own regard but if you want to be included as a member of a diverse society, these are the places to start.
There is much to be said about diversity and inclusion at this very relevant time in our world. The door has been opened for you and it is up to you to enter and discover the realities that lie within these concepts. Read, understand and engage. As you are today, you are more powerful than you have ever been because you are wiser than you were yesterday. Take advantage of what lies around you and ensure that you do not wait until you have reached the top to effect change. Ask yourself how are you represented in the legal industry and is this how you want to be represented? The time is now, the ball is in your court.