Chris White, founder of Aspiring Solicitors, unpacks the truth behind diversity in law. Shedding light on the realities of diversity within the legal industry, Chris shares his passion for a more diverse workplace. After being the first in his family to go to university, or enter a profession, Chris shares how his experiences inspired him to set up Aspiring Solicitors, and how Aspiring Solicitors works closely with TLT to ensure opportunities are open to all.
Hello and welcome to the TLT Unpacked Podcast series.
Hello and welcome to the TLT Unpacked Podcast series. To start today’s episode, we’re going to do a quick exercise. I’m going to read out three professions and after each one I want you to really focus on the image that comes to mind. I’ll give you a moment to really think about it. All right, ready? Here’s the first one.
All right, so who did you imagine? What did they look like in your mind? Did you automatically think of a man for some roles and a woman for others? What age, gender, ethnicity or social background did they have in your mind?
The fact is, we all have preconceived notions about what sort of person does what, and we make snap judgements about people even though we don’t mean to. Sometimes we don’t even realise it’s happening. This is a phenomenon called unconscious bias.
I’d like to introduce you to Chris White, the founder of Aspiring Solicitors which champions increased diversity within organisations. He’s going to talk to you about diversity in law, his experiences and how aspiring solicitors work with TLT.
Chris White: Unconscious biases are preconceptions you have about something. They influence your judgement and behaviours without you realising it. They’re often formed by your background, experiences you’ve come across, and what you see in society and media. In the workplace biases can play out in various situations through the assumptions you make about others and their abilities. When we make professional decisions, we like to think we’re being logical, balanced, and fair, but it’s not just rational thought that affects our decisions. It’s our instinct which can be biased.
Why is it important to be aware of unconscious bias?
Chris: It’s important to be aware of unconscious bias and work to break those judgemental barriers down wherever we can, so it doesn’t impact how we treat people as colleagues, clients, or candidates in an interview.
How does that link to diversity in law?
Chris: Well diversity has a broad meaning and here we’re referring to the principles Aspiring Solicitors, which are actually to increase diversity across all underrepresented groups in the legal profession, which is fundamental to get the best candidates coming through into the legal profession.
Why did you set up Aspiring Solicitors?
Chris: Before I set up Aspiring Solicitors I was a corporate lawyer at one of the largest law firms in the world, and before that I trained at a US law firm. Prior to my professional career I was educated at a non-Russell Group university. My upbringing meant that I was from a working-class family. My dad laid bricks for a living and my mom was on a shop floor, and nobody in my family had been to university and I was the first person in my family to go into a profession. Throughout my time as a lawyer I’d witnessed discrimination on all levels. I wanted to challenge the misconception that there was a certain type of person that became a lawyer, and I wanted to make sure that people with the most potential could actually achieve their dream of becoming a solicitor, as I did myself. There are lots of different ways that diversity manifests itself. It might be in class, your religious beliefs, gender, sexual orientation, or ethnicity and I found in my experience that these underrepresented groups are genuinely underrepresented in the profession.
How about for the business?
Chris: Not getting into the profession for various reasons, very different reasons and not allowing individuals to be themselves at work actually means that not only does the individual end up being unhappy, but the law firm is nowhere near as productive or profitable as a consequence of it, and I feel very strongly that people should be proud of who they are as individuals and that they should bring their best self to work, because if that’s not happening then they’re not going to be happy. They’re not going to stay in their profession. We’re going to get to the top of the profession where partnership is made up of 80% men, and there’s only 8% of partners that are from an ethnic minority in their profession, or worse still 0.7% of partners that are black in their profession. In 2017 that is disgraceful and that cannot have meant that they are the best people for the job. It just means that historically we’ve been fishing in a very, very small pond. It is undoubtedly the case that the best organisations, the organisations that are going to progress the quickest, are going to make the most money will be those that have a diverse workforce. Clients want their lawyers to be like them and not every client is white, male, privately educated, or heterosexual from Oxbridge. So, it doesn’t make business sense to recruit individuals from one particular mould. It’s essential that law firms have individuals with different views, different ways of approaching challenges, and different ways to interact with individuals in a social setting. It’s no wonder that multiple reports demonstrate that the best organisations are those that are the most diverse.
So why do you work with TLT?
Chris: Aspiring Solicitors works with TLT because there is a genuine desire and passion to recruit the best candidates. It recognises that those candidates are from a diverse group, background, and experience than those currently most represented in a legal profession. Aspiring Solicitors doesn’t work with organisations that aren’t genuinely committed to that. TLT is an affiliate of Aspiring Solicitors and enjoys multiple events at its offices attended by our members, but it has also demonstrated its commitment through being one of a limited number of law firms partnering with AS on the flagship competition that we run, which is the Commercial Awareness Competition. TLT gets to meet excellent candidates from a diverse range of backgrounds and groups. The Commercial Awareness Competition is CV blind and ensures that the best, most commercially aware candidates progress to the latter stages.
It is here that TLT meets candidates through hosting semi-final and also at different points of the competition where they host round three and the quarterfinals. TLT is also integral in judging the grand final of the Commercial Awareness Competition at Barclays. Winners of the competition secure work experience at TLT, which we hope would often lead to training contracts, or other roles.
What’s the dream?
Chris: The dream for Aspiring Solicitors is for Aspiring Solicitors not to exist anymore. I want to ensure that the army that we’re creating around diversity continues to beat the drum, that means that organisations, partners that don’t get diversity can no longer ignore it, and I want that drum to beat so loudly that everybody has to listen to it. Having met individuals from within TLT, both junior and senior, it is clear to me that TLT was on board with Aspiring Solicitor’s objectives and goals. TLT genuinely wanted to increase diversity within its organisation, and continues to do so to this day.
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