Simranjeet Kaur Mann | Diversity in Law

  1. 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?

    I mainly decided to study law because I studied subjects like English Literature and History at school and I really enjoyed those subjects where you’re applying facts, literature or historical facts to answering a question. There’s the idea that if you’re a science person then you should be a doctor, or if you’re better at English then you should be a lawyer. Obviously it’s not true but I think that is one thing that was emphasised to me growing up. Another reason was that I watched a movie and I thought ‘wow this lawyer is really cool’, but obviously in reality it’s not like that at all. When I then went to university to study law, I realised that I enjoyed the corporate lifestyle of working in London, I liked that professional sphere and I wanted to be a part of that. I really liked the ambition of when you work in London and you’re pursuing your professional career in the city.

    Another motivation is the constant challenge and the fact that you’re always learning. I realised very early on that I can’t work in areas that are stagnant, when you’re doing the same thing every single day. I am very much the type of person that likes to keep developing and learning and a career in law definitely suits that as you continue to learn.

    I am very much a people person as well, so this was a motivation for pursuing a career in law. A career in law encourages you to not only build good relationships with clients but also other lawyers and other professionals at networking events for example. This is a career where you go to an event and opportunities open up to you that you wouldn’t have realised, like this opportunity now having an interview with you, I wouldn’t have got this without going to a networking event!

    Problem solving is a big part of a career in law. You are allowed to use legislation and case law and adapt it to your client, and I quite like that aspect of it.

    In terms of my perception of the legal industry, one of my first impressions was that it’s highly corporate and only particular people who looked and acted in a certain way, had a certain background or education could be lawyers. That has changed now because I am in the career, and I come from a completely different background from the people that I thought fitted the corporate image. Also, there are now particular individuals and firms who are changing my perception. These are role models out there, especially on LinkedIn and social media, who are actively changing the image of lawyers, for example Alice Stephenson and Alex Su. These are two individuals who are changing the way the law looks and I really look up to individuals like that who are changing the perceptions of the legal industry in a positive way.
  1. At the start of your career, did you have any awareness of the impact ethnicity could have on your career progression?

    Before university no. I was naive growing up in a really diverse area where I was actually one of the majority, so I never realised what it felt like to be a minority ethnic person so I didn’t think it would affect me as much in my career. When I went to university I soon realised the impact of your ethnicity can mean that the odds are stacked up against you, because you walk into a room and you see nobody like you. I had a lot of situations like that at university where I felt that and that’s when I started hearing stories of people changing their names on applications, I found myself even shortening my name to make it easier for people to say. Nobody said directly to me ‘you’re not welcome to be a lawyer’ but it was indirect, e.g. attending an event and having the expectation that you would need to act or look a certain way, because you would look around the room and there would be nobody else who looks like you.
  1. What are some examples of how someone’s ethnicity could help or hinder them as they navigate the legal profession?

    I’ll talk about helping first on a more positive note. In terms of helping, your ethnicity can make you stand out in a really positive way, when you are in a supportive and inclusive environment. For example, with my firm I really have pride in sharing who I am in terms of my ethnic background, because people are so interested to hear about the different things that happen in my culture and it is something that is celebrated rather than being seen as different or weird. I think when you are in an inclusive and supportive environment having a different ethnicity can really help and it also means that you are able to contribute to the firm in different ways. I care a lot about D&I so I have been putting in a unique insight into how a firm can be more inclusive and diverse, because of my ethnic background and what I have personally gone through.

    In terms of hinderances, when it comes to interviews, for example, there can be unconscious biases and stereotyping. Even in the workplace there can be stereotyping or microaggressions that you have to face and that then hinders you as you feel that you are not welcome within the legal profession. I also feel like sometimes in an environment that is quite ignorant, you can be asked questions that would not be asked of others. For example, a woman may be asked in an interview about her intentions of having children after getting married, but the same question may not be asked to a male person. It’s those types of unwanted questions that could make you feel like you’re not welcome in the career as they have made assumptions about you before you have spoken.
  1. What do you see as the main challenges facing ethnic minorities working in the legal sector?

    One thing for me is a lack of role models or representation. It’s ironic that it has only been 2 weeks since I found someone who is a role model in the legal career for me. I’ve been a paralegal and a law student since 2015 and its only now that I have found someone who is a role model. It’s someone on Linkedin and they don’t know who I am, but I have seen their posts and I really admire this person. She is a South-Asian woman who has started her own law firm and she talks a lot about how she has overcome ignorant comments and microaggressions in the past to create what she has now, she has no idea who I am, but I see her posts and I am in awe of her. That is the first time I have seen a role model for me in the legal industry and it’s made me realise how important it is to have representation. One reason that I see her as a role model is because she is a South-Asian woman like myself and I align to the things that she says as they are relatable and that is a big challenge facing ethnic minorities right now as you find that most people look the same, act the same or have the same background and it makes you wonder what you are doing there.

    Another challenge facing ethnic minorities is inclusivity within the workplace. For example, sometimes people don’t mean it, but they can give off microaggressions, such as touching your hair, and it might seem harmless at first, but it can make you feel a bit like ‘I am not an animal in a zoo’. There’s little things like that which can put you off from working within the legal industry altogether. As trainees we are focused on trying to stay afloat with our work and be the best trainees that we can be, and with all of these different responsibilities, we shouldn’t have to worry about all these different elements. I am not facing it myself but in general we shouldn’t have to educate other people on their behaviours, it would be a massive burden to hold as an ethnic minority within the legal sector and unfortunately some people do have that to deal with.
  1. Spanning your legal career, what changes have you seen in employer awareness and attitudes towards diversity and inclusion?

    The most remarkable change that I have witnessed personally is since the passing of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests last year because that is when firms were starting to wake up, as they were scared that they would be called out for silence and inaction about the situation. Certain causes become viral and there is a lot of talk about it over a few months, and then it declines, and people aren’t really talking about it anymore, you can say the same for example with Palestine and all of these different global issues that are happening. I would like to see firms maintain that momentum, which some firms have, I have seen more social mobility causes and some have opened scholarships for people of certain backgrounds or ethnic minorities. Employees seem to be now more willing to talk about diversity and inclusion from a general perspective and firms are becoming open to the fact that changes do need to be made. We can talk about it all we want, but we need to actually act on these words now.
  1. In what ways can law firms or legal teams be more inclusive? Can you identify any examples of good practice within the profession?

    Training and education is a big part of allowing people to understand why certain actions can be seen as uncomfortable for people of certain ethnic minority backgrounds. Training on unconscious biases and microaggressions should be more prominent and these should be maintained as well, not just a video when you join a firm, but it should be regularly emphasised. There should be more emphasis with Black History Month for example, allowing people to share their experiences and allowing people to understand. For example, the British Empire wasn’t the best empire but when I learned it at school it was described as the most amazing thing in the world, so trying to change peoples’ opinions about that element is important.

    It is important for firms to have diversity and inclusion representatives, so people who are representative of certain communities or backgrounds for example sexuality, race, religion and these are representatives that are responsible for ensuring that people understand what can be seen as microaggressions, or supporting the firm in celebrating certain cultural traditions etc. Firms also need to be honest with themselves; some firms shy away from tackling D&I head on as they are worried about their image for clients but a big part of improvement is self-reflection and being more human in the corporate sphere.

    Firms could consult more diversity base consultancies as well. Companies advising workplaces on how to be more diverse and inclusive, and putting funding towards this especially at the senior levels would be good. I see much more diversity in the more junior levels however I don’t see much at all at the more senior level, this is something that firms should work on.
  1. Who or where have you drawn career inspiration from?

    I wouldn’t say I have drawn career inspiration from any one person in particular, as I mentioned I only found a role model a few weeks ago. I think it was more my experience as a paralegal that has helped me. The individuals that I worked with as a paralegal were not the exact image of how a lawyer should be, because I definitely noticed some microaggressions when I worked with them, however I did enjoy the work and I realised that not every firm is going to have people who work in that way, and you’re going to meet people who are much more supportive and inclusive and this allowed me to draw career inspiration. I enjoyed the feeling of fulfilment when I did a good piece of work, or I helped a client out.

    Now I have really met some people who do fit the image of the lawyer in the right way, they are organised, they stay on top of the work, they keep a level head even with lots going on and they are people that I also draw career inspiration from as I like the way that they go about their work.
  1. If you could give your younger self some advice, what would that advice be?

    I would say to not stop being yourself and stop trying to chase what you think an image of what the corporate sphere looks like. When I started being myself and acting like myself in interviews was when I started going through to the next stages, whereas in my initial interviews I was trying to act like somebody I wasn’t, and I ended up overthinking and giving answers that weren’t reflective of who I was, and they could see through that and I wasn’t getting through. So, it was only when I started understanding what makes me, me and what my strengths are and what I needed to improve on, going through the self-reflection is when I started becoming a lot more successful in my career.