- Please share your motivations for pursuing a career in law. What was your perception of the legal industry before you entered the profession? Has this changed?
The main motivating factor for me going into law was that I wanted to have a tangible impact on African development specifically. I was strongly influenced by the fact that I was born in Zambia and I grew up there during my formative years so I was always fascinated by how it strived to develop as a nation. I always had an interest in what makes nations develop and the economic drivers, it’s through this interest I realised that law was at the forefront of investment and prosperity. It was when I got to university to do Law with International Relations that I was thinking that I would like to get into NGO or development type of work but at the same time law might open similar doors along those lines. When I got to university I realised that a lot of law firms undertake work where they are at the intersection of international investments and business and that for me was quite important because it reflected the driving forces of how states can prosper.
I wasn’t used to seeing people that looked like me in the field because when I was going to open days and looking at the websites it was very rare to see somebody who looked like me or came from my background, in terms of cultural and schooling background. The more I was researching solicitors at a senior level it seemed to reflect my perceptions that I already had, that there weren’t many people that looked like me at that level in law. That perception of thinking that you have to be maybe quite privileged and from a certain background to get into law was the main one that I had. Growing up the only lawyer that I knew was Mandela, I wasn’t aware of any in the UK, either famous or around my network so this further drove the perception which I had.
This perception has now changed and I think that this is mainly down to the time I’ve spent in the profession meeting countless diverse individuals. Having done some reverse mentoring with a Partner at Clyde & Co. I also realised that we had a lot more in common than I thought we would have. I had my preconceptions of what I expected him to be like and it turned out that we were quite similar in terms of our families and schooling backgrounds. So yes, my perception has changed compared to when I started applying because of my experiences, as well as seeing the number of access initiatives going on in the law.
- At the start of your career, did you have any awareness of the impact ethnicity could have on your career progression?
At the start of my career the fact that I didn’t see that many people at the senior level like me made me feel that my ethnicity might be a factor potentially but saying that at the time, and even now, I didn’t let it hold me back from following my passions.
- What are some examples of how someone’s ethnicity could help or hinder them as they navigate the legal profession?
Help is the first thing that came to mind for this question as I have an affinity with Africa and I think that a lot of firms have a focus on getting work from Africa and having an Africa practice group and if you have staff from a prominent ethnic group in the region or that have worked there, they can understand the professional and cultural experiences and that can be a big benefit in terms of dealing with relatable clients and being able to navigate getting work from certain clients. You can offer a different way of thinking based on those cultural experiences and your background so your ethnicity should be able to give you a diverse approach and offer something that others might not.
Another obvious help would be helping more junior members like myself who would benefit from seeing someone from their own ethnicity in the profession. I went to a specialist performing arts school so there were no mentoring schemes or much of an emphasis on professional careers so we didn’t have people to talk with about careers and going to the city etc. so for example, I do think it would have been helpful to have someone visit my school to speak with about that, and if they had come from my ethnicity that would have been even more powerful as I’d have felt that I could relate to them and aspire to achieve the things they did.
- What do you see as the main challenges facing ethnic minorities working in the legal sector?
Retention and progression is the most obvious one but for me, another important point is that it may be hard to bring your authentic self to work. For instance, ethnic minorities tend to have their own religious or cultural traditions or things that they have to do and in law its quite a regimented way that people are expected to behave and what they are expected to do, so I think they might not be as understanding of someone’s religious or cultural commitments and when you combine that with the necessity for billable hours this can clash. So, how can they bring their authentic self to work as well as the cultural commitments that can come with that your ethnic background?
- Spanning your legal career, what changes have you seen in employer awareness and attitudes towards diversity and inclusion?
If you count my legal career from when I started my law degree I think at that time I never would have expected firms to talk about quotas for instance. For me, that was something I had been hearing on American football and the concept of the quotas for interviewing black coaches, but I never thought I would see quotas in law. I think there’s been a lot of progression in understanding that there is a big gap in talent and access for that talent and now we have an awareness of promotion and retention and different ways to combat that, such as sponsorship. I have seen a lot in terms of social mobility, that is something that I feel strongly about and I have seen a lot of changes within organisations such as graduate recruitment, it has put more pressure on law firms to try and focus on D&I. When I started studying I wasn’t seeing a lot about D&I at all, but now firms are actively trying to address this.
- In what ways can law firms or legal teams be more inclusive? Can you identify any examples of good practice within the profession?
Firms can be more inclusive by ensuring that they’re hiring from a wider pool of talent. As I said, social mobility is something that I feel strongly about and I think a lot of that is because of growing up in the area that I grew up in, as well as going to a non-Russell-Group university, I had a perception that law firms might just hire from selected universities and more can be done here. For large London firms, over 85% in 2017 were from Oxbridge or Russell Group. Both these groups have lower numbers of state-educated students than Non-Russell Group universities. If we want to hire from a wider talent pool and push for social mobility, there needs to be a recognition that there are talented and diverse individuals across the country who have the skills to succeed but are lacking that belief and confidence due to the perceptions they might have of the profession not being inclusive to them. There is great power in seeing people that look like you, so hiring from a wider pool can ensure that alongside physical characteristics, there is an emphasis on diversity of thought.
- Who or where have you drawn career inspiration from?
I didn’t want to be a lawyer from childhood, I just had a keen interest in economic development and that sort of thing, so I didn’t really know anybody who was in the law that I could draw inspiration from. Therefore, my career inspirations were those closest to me, that would be my Mum and Dad. My Mum has amazing integrity, dedication and tenacity and my Dad because he was incredibly intelligent and I always wanted to replicate his educational and career achievements. He passed away when I was quite young so his memory has been a very strong factor for me to replicate.
- If you could give your younger self some advice, what would that advice be?
My advice would be to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. When I was quite young I was very shy, reticent and scared of stepping out of my comfort zone. It took going to university to understand that I needed to get comfortable with being uncomfortable as that was going to be the only way I was going to be able to converse with people and gain the skills that I needed to talk about on job application forms and showcase in interviews. So yes, if I was telling my younger self I would say that you need to step outside and find your own way because that’s going to be incredibly beneficial for your personal growth.