"I didn’t have connections to anyone who worked in law"

Meet Karl Brown, a partner at Clarke Willmott, who specialises in commercial property. Karl explains his journey to becoming a solicitor, how coming from a working-class background gave him the resilience needed to effectively advocate for his clients, and why he’s got just as much right to be here as anyone else.
Karl Brown is a black man. He is wearing a suit and glasses. He is smiling in front of a white background.
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I am Bristol born and bred. My parents came to the UK from Jamaica in the early 1960s – my dad was a plasterer and my mum a nurse. Seeing how hard they worked to provide the best of their children instilled a strong work ethic in me.

I didn’t have connections to anyone who worked in law. I went to a comprehensive school and we weren’t a wealthy family. My background helped make me resilient, which is a skill you need as a solicitor. You shouldn’t be afraid of your background or what school you came from. In my experience, being different is a positive thing and makes you a more effective solicitor.

It was difficult getting a training contract. I submitted over 100 applications! It wasn’t until four years after I finished my LPC that I managed to secure one. I really benefitted from being mentored by a lawyer from a very similar background who was a partner at a major firm in Bristol. I was able to speak to him about how tough it was and get valuable tips on applications. I think encouragement is a massive help if you’re having a difficult time trying to achieve your goal.

I’ve got as much right to be here as anyone else. I kept telling myself that in the early days of my career. I didn’t see many Black lawyers when I was growing up. At the start of my career, I’d go to networking events, but I’d realise that there weren’t that many people like me there. You start thinking “Am I going to fit in?”. It was only as I got older that I saw things start to change.

“You cannot be what you cannot see”. This is one of my favourite quotes from Marian Wright Edelman, a civil rights pioneer. If you look at the legal community now, there are a lot more lawyers from diverse backgrounds. There has been increased recognition that diversity and inclusion is crucial to a modern law firm, and a 21st century business. Firms are starting to understand that their diversity and inclusion work can’t just be words – action has to follow.

We’ve all got unique selling points. I think a lot of firms recognise that we work in a global market. If you have family connections to other countries, or can speak different languages, then you can help open doors that other people can’t. You can really add value to your organisation in that way.

I’m proud of founding the Bristol Property Inclusive Charter. In my work as a commercial property solicitor, I found there needed to be increased diversity and inclusion in the Bristol property sector. I established the Charter to boost diversity – it started off with 15 signatories and now it has just under 80. It really showed me that, as a solicitor or legal professional, you can make a difference – not just to your own profession but on a wider scale too.

Leaders should have a laser focus on what happens to your intake of recruits. There’s been a lot of attrition in the profession of young lawyers from certain communities. It’s obvious that if they don’t stay long enough within the firm it will be difficult for them to progress. I think in our equality, diversity and inclusion work we’ve got to make sure it filters down to day-to-day activities. Look at things like fair work allocation and making sure that everyone within your team or department who has the skills has a chance to shine.

Be bold. That’s what I’d say to my younger self. It can be difficult to have confidence when you’re taking your first steps in a career such as law, especially when you’re from an underrepresented community. You often have self-doubts in the back of your mind. Have humility, work hard, be courteous to others, but above all: be bold.

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