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10 May 2024

Supporting and empowering ethnically diverse aspiring solicitors: Reflections for firms and organisations

On 7th February 2024, as part of Race Equality Week, the College hosted a panel session to empower and support ethnically diverse students and junior lawyers.

The panellists shared their experiences and advice for firms to improve and ensure inclusivity in recruitment and progression. .

“I don't want anyone growing up or being in the same position as I was. So it's important for me to create that inclusive environment in the legal profession.” Ramsha


  • Bal Atwal: In-house solicitor with West Midlands Police, specialising in commercial property and commercial law. Bal chairs the in-house Committee at Birmingham Law Society and an elected Council member for the National Law Society, where he represents solicitors 0 to 6 years PQE.
  • Ramsha Nayab is a newly qualified commercial property solicitor, She initially completed a Business BTEC, then completed a degree in law and psychology, GDL, LPC and Training Contract. Ramsha volunteers with the Muslim lawyers hub.
  • Saima Haroon is a director and consultant solicitor with 12 PQE+ in civil and financial services litigation and part of the Women's Lawyers Division. Saima is also a supervisor on The College of Legal Practice’s SQE2 preparation course.

How do we empower ethnically diverse aspiring lawyers in the workplace?

Bal shared that he had had the opportunity to work across different types of firm, and with lawyers and non lawyers that come from all ages or backgrounds or colours.

When Bal was in traditional private practice, there was conversation about making processes more open for all. So, whether that's blind recruitment, or having a proper retention scheme in place. Now that he is outside of private practice, he looks at these firms and can see that they're putting together this kind of infrastructure where they really want to make sure that if you are from a different background, the applicants can see what the firm is doing to support people like you. He feels that there is now more opportunity for everyone and it has grown over time.

Bal felt that increasingly you don’t now need to go to top 10 university for example, blind recruitment helps with that, and awareness of diversity and inclusion has increased across the board.

What key advice would you give firms when it comes to supporting ethnically diverse students?

Saima felt that it is key to know your staff and what backgrounds they have. She gave examples of social committees that run specific events to celebrate eg Eid, Christmas or Diwali. They were very well aware of different backgrounds. She felt that getting the juniors and trainees involved is key, and making sure that the committee itself is quite diverse. You should get involved with the trainees, talk about their own experience and their backgrounds. So it's really knowing your students, your graduates, your future trainees, and their backgrounds.

It is also worth having someone senior who is responsible for the committee and events, because every junior wants facetime with the senior, and she would encourage the senior solicitors to get involved.

The panel agreed that being curious and braver to open up conversations was important. Saima felt that these social events opens up the conversations in quite positive way in an informal environment and everyone loves food! Also, the firms should get everyone involved, not just the legal department, everyone would mingle and get to know each other.

Ramsha wished that more of this was happening in the Northeast, perhaps across law firms. She felt that as an individual you have to do your own bit in society, and she is thankful that she is in a very diverse law firm. There are other Muslims that work there and wear a hijab, so it's completely different to what she has experienced before, and I'm very proud to work there.

Ramsha advised that you don't have to be from a certain background to put that idea forward, or to educate yourself, or to go out and do your own bit. That responsibility lies on all of us individually including directors and partners. So a lot of people can be made aware of the ongoing issues that other people face and barriers that people have to overcome.

How else can firms better support ethnically diverse employees?

Ramsha felt that the main thing is education and guidance, and seeing how you can support people and given people the tools to be able to support them. So it is a balanced field for everyone. It's no good just coming from those with a diverse background, it's really about being able to give everyone that equal opportunity.

If you can have the conversations early on, whether it's through school, A levels, it might help people to achieve, and do their best and see where they can go.

How can we also support progression in the sector?

Bal felt that it comes down to recruitment and retention, you start with blind recruitment process, not only names, but education and any other elements that may unconsciously bias people in some of the decisions that they make.

In terms of outreach, you should make sure that you are going to different places. There's no point just going to the Oxford and Cambridge’s because you're only going to get one type of person. Are you going to the North? Are you going to the East, the South, the Midlands? Make sure you are showing yourself to a wider pool of talent.

In terms of interviews, Bal felt that you need to make sure that the interview panel is made up of diverse people, and diversity across all strands, gender disability, religion, belief, background. Having people from different backgrounds means that everyone brings a different perspective, and ultimately you get the best candidate when you have a better interview panel.

Regarding retention, Bal shared that people may think that they have ticked the box as soon as they brought the talent in, but you need to keep the talent as well. He shared that there have been many instances that he has known of, where super talented lawyers got into amazing law firms, and within a year or 2 they have realised that it isn’t for them. These lawyers had fantastic marketing and went through the honeymoon period, then slowly realised, this isn't for me and doesn't represent me.

He recommended that firms need to focus on their recruitment strategy and commit that same energy to retention, and if you do that ultimately the business will prosper because they're not having to re-hire every 2-3 years.

How does representation change as the roles get more senior?

Saima shared that in her last role, she was the only female on the board, but she didn’t have any issues. When it comes to recruitment, she believes that if you have that qualification and experience, it is difficult to say no to someone who is actually a good fit for the role. I never felt like I was discriminated against.

The panel also reflected on the Law Society’s Race for Inclusion Report published in 2020 that highlighted the experiences of black, asian and minority ethnic solicitors. Some of the key findings included that change is coming slowly and more needs to be done, that change varies across different ethnic groups, and that there are specific barriers including lack of role models and connections in the profession.

What would you like to see happen to better empower ethnically diverse junior lawyers?

Saima would like firms to consider reverse mentoring opportunities, she will be mentioning it to her firm. One of her friends at a large international firm is finding their reverse mentoring scheme to be enlightening - her mentor is from an ethnic background and few management levels below her, and she had thought that she was quite aware of diversity, but since meeting her mentor, and speaking to him, she's realised how much she doesn't know.

She thinks that firms also need to factor in the socio-economic factors that link with ethnicity, and what more could be done for those from poorer backgrounds to help them with qualification.

Ramsha would like to see more events that cater for different people and different backgrounds. She would especially like to see organisations creating safe environments that help listen to everyone and their opinions, more networking events in the Northeast, and more non-alcoholic, halal and vegetarian options. She felt that little things like that, can make a massive impact.

Bal would like to see law firms reflect who their clients are, ie the public that pass through, in their lawyers. When he has been at events at nice law firms, and then walked on the street, there often seems to be a massive disconnect.

If he could make a change immediately, he would like to see 1. The SRA increase powers to fine and sanction firms that don't disclose their diversity data and 2. If that diversity data is poor, then sanction them.

Bal believes that until law firms are impacted financially, they won't make the changes quickly enough.

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