Impact story: Stephenson Harwood's Black Talent Programme

Stephenson Harwood set out to increase representation of Black and ethnic minority colleagues across the firm. Discover how its Black Talent Programme made an impact on recruitment and retention.

The challenge

Black lawyers are underrepresented in the legal profession, including at Stephenson Harwood.

In 2020, we analysed our data on race and ethnicity to:

  • understand representation of ethnic minority lawyers and business services colleagues over time
  • seek insights into their experience

We looked at this data in partnership with Pirical. This enabled us to analyse our data over time, benchmark representation against other law firms and understand sector-wide challenges.

In particular, our data showed that Black colleagues were underrepresented both at trainee level and across the firm.

We used this understanding to develop our ethnicity action plan.

The plan outlines our commitment to increase representation at varying levels of seniority across the firm and the actions that we are taking to achieve this aim.

We are committed to finding ways to attract and recruit Black trainees, who will become future associates in our firm.

The action taken

In 2021, we sought to increase representation of Black talent at the firm, particularly in our trainee intake.

We aim to recruit 30% minority ethnic trainees each year, a third of whom are Black.

To achieve this, we launched our Black Talent Programme in partnership with Aspiring Solicitors to increase the number of Black trainees that we attract and recruit.

The programme is designed to kick-start the legal careers of Black students through providing:

  • mentors
  • skills development workshops
  • designated placement opportunities
  • guaranteed places on an assessment centre for a training contract

The result

Since running the programme, we have increased our intake of Black trainees to the firm.

From our 2022 recruitment cycle, 41% of the trainees who will join us are ethnic minorities, 19% of whom are Black.

Measuring the impact

We measure success by the number of people we offer places to and the proportion who accept our offers.

We also review the programme annually with Aspiring Solicitors.

We offer a place on a placement scheme for 10 students each recruitment cycle.

Following the 2022 assessment centres, we offered six training contracts and had five acceptances from Black Talent Programme participants. Most of these trainees will be joining us in 2024.

A secondary positive impact of the programme is that our colleagues in the business feel like tangible action has been taken on representation.

We also know from anecdotal feedback in the market that this programme is positively received by future talent, not just those from Black heritage backgrounds.

Next steps

The Black Talent Programme is just the beginning of the journey for us: participants are starting to join our trainee cohorts now.

In addition to continuing the programme to attract and recruit top talent, we will work across our HR, recruitment and development teams to retain talent by ensuring they have the support and guidance needed to succeed.

Our tips

1. Listen to and involve your people

People with lived experiences can help you understand the experiences of minority ethnic colleagues in your workplace. They are also the role models for the people you want to attract.

Those colleagues play an essential role in a programme like this and offer valuable insights and feedback.

2. Work with external experts in the field

Using external organisations such as Aspiring Solicitors has been instrumental to helping us attract aspiring Black lawyers by advertising our programmes to its members.

3. Pilot and review it

Once you have established a programme or action plan, take the time to review how it’s going.

Ask yourself, your partner organisation and those who took part what went well and what needs to change.

Just because you have built a plan doesn’t mean it will be successful the first time around.

In our first year of running the programme, we offered one candidate a training contract.

When evaluating the pilot, we identified where candidates were not succeeding and what changes to the process would help us to attract more great candidates.

Following changes on both sides, we increased our success rate from one person to six people.

Create lasting change in your firm

The diversity and inclusion framework is a systematic approach to developing and delivering a diversity and inclusion strategy.

It has simple steps you can follow, tangible actions you can take and regular checkpoints to help you monitor your progress.

We are also gathering case studies from across the legal sector to share learning of what has worked and help others plan actions.

Get in touch with the team to share your impact story

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