Articles From the Team

Does racism still exist in Law firms?

I think not, or at least I hope not…

Growing up in the UK as a child of Sri Lankan parents meant I would always be a little bit different. I went to a school in Derbyshire that wasn’t particularly ethnically diverse and in my younger years I have had to deal with racism in school and in public. In my lifetime, a mere 30 years, the world has changed. Direct discrimination has become less prevalent but with the advent of social media bigots and racists are able to turn to the internet to vent their ignorant views with a small minority having the cojones to make their feelings public.

Earlier this week I was walking through a suburb of Birmingham on my way to a friend’s place for dinner. As I walked out of the train station and turned the corner onto the main road I came across a couple walking towards me, probably the same age as me give or take a year or two. Some ten feet or so behind them walked a small boy, dressed almost identically to the man who had just walked past me so I assumed him to be their child. As they walked past me the couple shot me a look, somewhat disdainful, but I shrugged this off. Then, as the child walked past me he looked up at me and with great conviction and no hesitation he threw me a racial slur, something I haven’t heard in years. For obvious reasons I would rather not repeat exactly what he said. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, I was completely caught off guard. This young boy cannot have been more than seven or eight years old and yet this word, this reaction to a complete stranger in the street was perfectly natural to him.

The sad thing about racism is the pure ignorance of it. To judge someone by the colour of their skin, for appearing to be different, perhaps speaking a different language or speaking with a foreign accent just perplexes me. In children this is heart breaking because children rely on their parents and elders to educate them and nurture them. In adults it’s just sad; for someone to have grown up in this world and still consider such things to be acceptable is pitiful. But my feelings on the matter not withstanding, it’s still a matter we need to take seriously.

Working in the legal sector means I meet a lot of people from many different walks of life. We work with candidates and clients from all over the world of all casts, colours and creeds. Equality and diversity has been high on the agenda for the legal sector in the UK for many years. I read an article recently that stated “Legal professions have traditionally been viewed as white, male and elitist…” which I think is becoming a bit of an outdated opinion. The Law Society and the SRA set the standards by which the legal profession operates in the UK but it’s the law firms themselves leading the charge when it comes to ethnic diversity and inclusion.

A more recent article detailing statistics on law firm diversity shows an average 6% rise in partners from an ethnic minority background, an average 4% rise in associates from an ethnic minority background and an average 3% rise in trainees from an ethnic minority background between 2014 and 2016. These numbers may not seem huge but they are hugely significant and they go to show that the legal profession isn’t as much an “old boys club” as it used to be, or as it may be perceived to be. Further research and data to support this progressive change shows lawyers coming from a more diverse educational background as well, with multiple routes to qualification thus further opening the doors to the legal profession.

It is encouraging to see that the legal sector in the UK is judging lawyers on their merits and their accomplishments rather than their ethnicity and their history. BCL Legal assists private practice law firms and in-house legal teams throughout the UK with all levels of legal recruitment from paralegal to partnership and we share this sentiment ensuring that every lawyer we assist, whether candidate or client, can make a successful career move regardless of cast, colour and creed.

For more information contact Gishan Abeyratne at BCL Legal.

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