On Wednesday 26th of October we ran our first panel event on accessibility in law, in this panel discussion we looked at accessibility into law for black legal professionals. On the panel were legal professionals Isaac Eloi, Junior Legal Counsel at ICE and Co-Founder of the Black Men in Law Network and Maab Saifeldin, Flex In-House Trainee Solicitor and career and lifestyle content creator in addition to Jane Waddell and Alice Payne from the College.
The aim of the session was to look at the attainment gap between black legal professionals and other ethnicities, the possible reasons that could be contributing to this and whether the SQE assessment results showed a deviation from this trend or not. The SQE has only been in practice for just over a year (with the first assessment taking place in November 2021) and there is not enough data to declare a conclusive trend. In addition to this, many students selected ‘other’ or did not disclose their ethnicity, making an analysis of attainment gaps difficult. The SRA announced that they have commissioned University of Exeter to look into the attainment gap between different ethnicities, this report is expected to be completed at the end of 2023 and aims to shed more light on the matter. However the results of the SQE does seem to show a similar pattern in attainment gap between black legal professionals and other ethnicities to that of the LPC and other examination methods.
SQE1 Results - July 22 (53% pass rate): 63% of white candidates passed compared to 54% for Asian/ Asian British candidates, 23% for black/black British, 58% for mixed ethnicities.
In order to understand the reasons that may be contributing towards this attainment gap, the panel looked at the various experiences black legal professionals experience on their career journey up until this point. This includes the beginning of their career at an undergraduate level following on to studying postgraduate and gaining work experience at a firm. Our panellists Isaac Eloi and Maab Saifeldin shared their experiences of encounters or obstacles at an undergraduate level that they or their peers faced which served to act as an obstacle to the career.
Isaac Eloi shares his thoughts on the university experience of his black peers “lots of them said ’I want to kind of get into law but I’ve got the wrong kind of degree’ and what they meant by that was not that they don’t have a law degree but they have a degree from a non-Russell Group university and that was a big thing in a lot of students minds, it was incredibly heavy and really weighed on a lot of people … because they realised ‘everyone I see on the website… had gone to a Russel Group University’.”
Maab Saifeldin also shared her thoughts and experiences on the undergraduate experience, which highlighted the need for an intersectional approach to accessibility into law with culture and regional location also playing a part in her experience. “In Africa in order for you to get a good job, you have to have a good degree. The networking starts after you finish your degree but in the UK it’s- you get a good degree but you still network. So, for my parents they were very much ‘get a first’ ‘get a 2:1’, they weren’t pushing me towards networking...”
The barriers to entry don’t necessarily stop at an undergraduate-level however. When asked if our panellists felt that there were additional challenges that black junior lawyers face in particular, when studying the LPC or SQE and juggling that along with working for their employer, Isaac responds “Definitely… the space of grace that may exist for a non-black candidate is just non-existent for you.” Before explaining how he often had to take annual leave to study after not being granted study leave, with co-workers treating his annual leave for study as a ‘holiday’.
The panel wrapped up the session with a final discussion on the importance of mentoring and how they benefitted from the support of mentoring and networking and providing a range of resources and links for those looking for support. You can watch the full panel session here.
Isaac Eloi is an award-winning, two years qualified music publishing lawyer at ICE and the co-founder of the Black Men In Law Network. The 320+ member strong network was founded to increase the representation of and reduce the attrition of Black male lawyers in law in the UK. He has been interviewed by the BBC podcast, Not All Lawyers Have Degrees, he has written on the importance of diversity and inclusion within the legal profession in The Lawyer and more widely in the Times Student Review and became a published author in 2021, writing about eastern Caribbean diasporic carnival culture in Black Joy, published by Penguin Random House.
Trainee solicitor working in-house qualifying through the SQE pathway. Between work and studies, Maab creates career and lifestyle specific content to share her experiences as a black practising Muslim in the corporate sector with the intention of helping and inspiring other young professionals.