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Why do we celebrate Black History Month?

22 September 2016

In advance of Black History Month, Jerry Garvey and Barbara Whitehorne consider issues around diversity in the legal profession, and explain what the Law Society is doing to help.

What is Black History Month?

The first legally themed event for Black History Month (BHM), which takes place during October, was held in 2009 and since then it has continued to be an inspirational event to anyone in the black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) community who wishes to follow a career path in law, whether still in training, newly qualified, or seasoned practitioner. 

Robert Heslett, president of the Law Society in 2009, said:

'The purpose of the Law Society's marking of Black History Month is to acknowledge the vital contribution black lawyers have made to society... and, more importantly, inspire tomorrow's lawyers to become equally successful.'  

Ethnicity profile of our members 

Based on our Annual Statistics Report 2015:

  • 15.5 per cent of solicitors with practising certificates are from BAME backgrounds
  • BAME solicitors are mainly represented in London (34.1 per cent), the West Midlands (18 per cent) and the East Midlands (13 per cent)
  • BAME solicitors are over represented as sole practitioners (18.7 per cent) and in practices of two to four partners (32.4 per cent) 
  • Almost 27 per cent of roll admissions were solicitors from BAME backgrounds   

Work in progress

Despite improved access to the profession, BAME groups remain under represented in senior roles. The Law Society is the principal sponsor of Black Solicitor Network's Diversity League Table (DLT) publication. The publication looks at diversity across some of the UK's leading law firms and chambers and marked its tenth anniversary in 2015. 

As a multi-ethnic society it is important that the legal profession is representative of the communities it serves. Black and Asian solicitors make a big contribution to legal services in communities that are economically and socially challenged. They also have a positive impact on promoting the business benefits of diversity and opening new international opportunities for law firms.

We continue to celebrate the contributions that black and Asian lawyers have made in law and to society through activities every October.

Law Society events in 2016

As well as honouring and highlighting the achievements of solicitors in the black community, our events provide an opportunity to highlight the best of black history and culture.

The month honours black history firsts:

  • Dr John Roberts QC – first person of African descent to be made a QC in England and Wales
  • Paul Boateng – first black solicitor MP and UK’s first black cabinet minister
  • Diane Abbot – first black woman to be elected to the House of Commons
  • Barack Obama – first black person to be elected president of the United States of America

Events throughout BHM

There will be a free photographic exhibition at the Law Society in Chancery Lane advertising and profiling talented and successful black solicitors across the UK. The exhibition is open to all and runs during the month of October.

Our main event for BHM is the Inspiration evening on 7 October, which brings together an impressive line up from the legal profession. The evening will profile and celebrate solicitors who have faced and overcame obstacles in a highly competitive profession that presents innumerable challenges. There will be an opportunity to ask the panel questions in the Q&A session that follows. Previous speakers have included Justice Dobbs, the first black female high court judge, Imran Khan, the solicitor who represented Stephen Lawrence, and Shaun Wallace from ITV's The Chase, who was also the first black person to win Mastermind in 2004. 

Preparing students for the solicitors' profession on 17 October will help aspiring black students by providing coaching and practical advice on obtaining training opportunities.  

BHM closes with an event in Birmingham on 21 October, again aimed at students, with the emphasis on providing them with positive role models and networking opportunities. 

The events are organised by a group of Law Society staff volunteers who make up the Black History Month committee. Their aim is to highlight the achievements of black solicitors in England and Wales. 

Speakers at the Inspiration evening include:

District Judge Tan Ikram, who started as a clerk, says he's 'not a stereotypical judge'. He wondered if his background would prevent him from having a career in law - his mother was a factory worker and father was a postman. However, he succeeded - first as a solicitor, then as a partner in a regional firm, and finally as a judge. Tan Ikram is also a social mobility ambassador. This is one of a number of initiatives that the Law Society offers through its social mobility programme.

Claudine Adeyemi, who, at only 25, is an associate at Mishcon de Reya and also founded and runs the Student Development Company, a non-profit organisation that provides career-related support to 16 to 24-year-olds from less privileged backgrounds. This year, she won a We Are The City's Rising Star award

Solomon Wifa, a partner in the Asset Management Group of the London office of Willkie Farr & Gallagher. In 2010 he made legal history when he became the youngest-ever managing partner of O'Melveny & Myers, one of the world's leading law firms. In January 2013 Solomon was named in The Lawyer's 2013 'Hot 100' list.

Tinu Adeshile was raised in a single-parent household and worked to fund herself through five years of part-time legal qualifications to become commercial legal counsel/head of legal (interim) at the Landmark Information Group. She featured in The Lawyer's 'Hot 100' list 2013 and was formerly the vice chairman of Plumstead Law Centre.

Other work around BAME solicitors

Celebrating BHM is just one way the Law Society supports its BAME members. The Ethnic Minority Lawyers Division (EMLD) committee plays a key role in supporting the work of the Law Society in shaping and delivering projects and policy and responding to the needs of its BAME members, for example by contributing to the Law Gazette roundtable discussion on diversity. The committee also responds to consultations, undertakes outreach work and educates young people.

Find out more about the EMLD Committee

Read about our Diversity Access Scheme

Find out about our social mobility ambassadors

Tags: equality | education and training | diversity and inclusion

About the author

Jerry Garvey is the membership development executive for the Law Society's Diversity & Inclusion team. His work centres around supporting and promoting the interests of our BAME members.
Follow the Diversity & Inclusion team on Twitter 

About the author

Barbara Whitehorne is the risk officer at the Law Society and a member of the Black History Month Committee.

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