In our series of articles, we discuss topical issues facing industry leaders, all through the lens of diversity, equity and inclusion (D, E & I)
How do we make a career in the legal profession accessible to all our young talent regardless of their social background?
In this article, we look at the growing need and desire to widen participation in the legal profession to ensure the profession remains relevant and robust both now and into the future; that it better reflects those it seeks to serve; that we have the best chance to attract home grown talent, regardless of whether that talent comes from a professional or, as is still very common, a legal family background.
It is an issue our founder, Naeema, feels extremely passionate about. It is something that, despite good intentions and initiatives from industry leaders, we have yet to see an impactful change around. In 2023, the legal profession remains something young people from less advantaged backgrounds do not aspire to, as they simply don’t see themselves fitting in.
To help put things into context, Naeema shares her own schooling experience and the insights she has developed, which led her to set up ‘D+ In the Classroom’.
‘Throughout my schooling years, and as far back as I can remember, I always felt ‘less’ than the other children. I attended state schools in some of the most deprived areas in Scotland, and the reality was that not many of us attained good results. Mine, despite the immense encouragement at home, were very poor.
To put it simply, I believed I was stupid, and no one at school supported me to think otherwise. I was told to learn how to cook and type because that, my guidance teacher felt, was as much as I could achieve.
Me at primary school - age approx 6
It wasn’t only the academic results. I was an underperformer and outsider in every aspect of school life: sports, music, language and social. In 4th year, in a desperate attempt to fit in, I tried to play girls' hockey only to find I was never selected to play and, much to my embarrassment, and relief, would be left sitting on a bench on my own. During a later rebellious streak, I tried to play football, which was a catastrophic failure when you combine racism with sexism. The names I was called can’t be repeated in this article, all in an effort to try to fit in. Somewhere. Anywhere.
The reality was I didn’t get school, and school didn’t get me. It was such a disjointed, dysfunctional relationship that leaving at the age of 17 with 2 Highers at a ‘C’ grade, in all probability, might have been viewed as a good result.
What changed for me was getting married and realising I wanted more for myself. Looking back, and with the knowledge I now have, there were so many ways in which the school could have supported me better. That is why I set up D+ in the Classroom.
We didn’t have any professionals in our family, friends or acquittances, let alone any lawyers. I recall watching Bollywood movies with my parents and being mesmerised by the dramatic courtroom scenes. The likes of ‘Ally McBeal’ and ‘LA Law’ came later.
Me as a bride - age 17
But why does this matter to me now?
Having been in the legal profession for over 20 years, I believe some positive changes have taken place. After all, you wouldn’t see ‘someone like me’ in the profession in past years. But sadly, progress has been slow, and there is a concern that it has plateaued.
The Law Society of Scotland conducts a survey every 5 years called 'Profile of the Profession. The one conducted earlier this year, together with other statistics, gives us an insight into the background of those in the field. Here are a few notable statistics from their Profile of the Profession 2023:
The perception remains that it is a profession for the elite, with a high portion of the power resting with those from privileged backgrounds.
It is an issue of great importance in the diversity and inclusion stakes, and more work needs to be done
The big question therefore is...what can we do?
Let’s start with what we should STOP doing:
1. Stop guessing: Leaders and decision-makers of my era tend to second guess what the solutions are without looking at the causes in depth. They can’t really be criticised for that. It’s an extremely complex and difficult thing to do. Consecutive governments have tried and failed, whether that be in an attempt to ‘close the attainment gap’ or to ‘get it right for every child’.
2. Stop the tick box: Having a one-off ‘campaign’ to help tick a box to meet your D, E & I objectives is unlikely to have any real impact. You need to think about long term, better resourced initiatives. Ones that provide lasting support for lasting change.
3. Stop pretending: Don't expect you shiny offices or American dramas to do your bidding for you. Be true to the cause and authentic.
Once we have a grasp on the bad habits we need to lose, we can concentrate on what to START doing:
1. Start embracing the youth. Speak to the school and the pupils to find out what they want and need to make your programme more relevant and relatable, thereby having a greater impact.
2. Start using your young relatable talent. Many firms now have vacation schemes for law students. Those law students are the ones who are most likely to be able to reach out and be relatable to their wannabe successors. Engage with them to plan a relatable programme for the schools and preferably team up with their former schools, for added relatability and legacy creation.
3. Start as you mean to go on. If you offer support to schools and pupils, see it through and be realistic about what support you can provide. Make sure it is sustainable in terms of time commitment and funding. Share resources and find a unified, collaborative approach. This is not only a moral imperative, but it also makes good business sense. It gives the industry a better chance to build a robust and diverse talent pool for the future.
As for long-term solutions and actions?
That needs more willingness to work and learn together. That is where Diversity+ comes in. We have partnered up with Developing Young Workforce Scotland to create bespoke programmes shaped to meet the needs of individual schools and pupils. Our latest flagship project launches this month with a pilot event at my former high school – Portobello High.
These programmes are aimed at pupils from S4 to S6 and are individually designed for each school and its pupils' needs. Programmes include a multitude of learning opportunities, varying from large group information sessions to individual support for university applications and learning about diverse career pathways.
In the true spirit of practising what we preach, don’t just take my word from it. Former students have weighed in about the need for education programs like D+ in the Classroom.
"I was one of very few in recent years from my school to go on to study an LLB Law degree, so a pathway into law was not something teachers were familiarising themselves with year on year. Many schools like mine have pupils applying to university, college and work all at once therefore it can be challenging for teachers to manage each individual application - Diversity+ is here to help make support aspiring solicitors in this process.”
Ariuna - LLB Law student at Edinburgh University
“I personally made use of some social mobility schemes and know that without their help I would not find myself in the fortunate position I am in; about to leave university and begin working for a top international law firm. I had a helping hand and now hope to be able to help others achieve their full potential, without being hampered by their lack of insight or understanding of the legal sector that some of their future peers will benefit from.”
James - LLB Law Graduate, Diploma in Professional Practice Student at the University of
“I found that my school lacked the resources to sufficiently prepare me for a legal career as there was a significant gap in information regarding the nature of the legal profession and the essential skills required to succeed in this field.”
Anmol - LLB Student at Glasgow University
“Speaking from my own experience, the topic of law was hardly on our school's radar, and no one in my year even considered it as a university major. If we had known more about it and had access to information, things might have turned out differently. The truth is, if you don't have any personal connections to the legal field or know friends studying law, it might not even cross your mind as a career choice.”
Nidah - Business Management with HRM Graduate
‘D+ in the Classroom’ is a new flagship project created by Diversity+ to help better understand the barriers that prevent our homegrown young talent from diverse and often less advantaged backgrounds from considering a career in law. If you would like to learn more about our project and find out how you can support the work we are doing, follow the link below.
If you would like to share your insights or wish to discuss your D, E & I ambition, please contact us using this link:
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