Russell-Cooke: Navigating the barriers: tips for aspiring BAME lawyers 17 March 2020

Russell-Cooke is hosting its first BAME legal conference which will be taking place in London. Paulette Mastin (chair of Black Solicitors Network (BSN)) and Stephanie Boyce (deputy vice president of the Law Society) will be sharing their personal experiences and advice on how to navigate the legal profession. Guest panellists will also be discussing the alternative paths to becoming a solicitor. Aspiring solicitors / attendees will have the chance to ask questions of the panel plus take away practical tips on how to nurture a successful career in the legal industry.

Tuesday 17 March 2020 – 7 Bedford Row, London, WC1R 4BS

Register your free place at this seminar.


Burges Salmon BCultured

BCultured is Burges Salmon’s Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) network. Established in 2018, the group welcomes anybody within the firm who shares its objectives: to promote diversity, inclusivity and social mobility within the firm.

‘It’s not just for lawyers’, explains Ebony Ezekwesili, first-seat trainee solicitor and active BCultured member. ‘It’s open to people at all levels in the firm, from apprentices to trainees to business services people. You don’t have to be BAME either, anyone who supports our aims can join’.

BCultured was officially launched in April 2019. The launch event, titled ‘From Diversity to Inclusion’ attracted around 100 guests. At a recent headcount, the group counted 32 members, at least four of whom are trainees in Ebony’s intake.

New recruits are quickly made aware of Burges Salmon’s diversity networks, which also include BProud, Family Matters and the Burges Salmon Disability Forum. Once enrolled, new members can hit the ground running: ‘I heard about BCultured probably within my first two weeks at the firm and joined soon afterwards. In fact, I was at one of the network’s first official meetings following the commencement of my training contract in September’, explains Ebony.

BCultured is co-chaired by senior associate Marcus Walters and design team manager Tanya Allen. Burges Salmon’s Diversity & Inclusion (‘D&I’) Manager, Fiona Smith, also sits on the committee and, Tanya, Fiona and Marcus all sit on the firm’s D&I Group, which is chaired by Liz Dunn (People Partner), and is the liaison between the network and the firm’s senior management. One benefit of being a BCultured member is that Ebony has met and got to know colleagues she may not otherwise have come across. ‘I recently attended the Rise awards, a celebration of black entrepreneurs in Bristol, with members of BCultured and Liz (Dunn). Liz, as well as being ‘People Partner’, is also a partner in the planning department and I’m sitting in pensions, so I hadn’t interacted with her before. It definitely brings together people you wouldn’t ordinarily bump into within the firm’.

The network comprises several sub-committees. Ebony is primarily involved with the recruitment and progression committee, which meets every 4-6 weeks and focuses on attracting more BAME applicants to the firm and publicising BCultured and the firm’s wider diversity initiatives to prospective applicants.

To this end, BCultured has developed relationships with local schools in Bristol, in particular those with diverse student populations or which are located in disadvantaged areas. BCultured has also developed relationships with the University of Bristol and the University of the West of England (UWE), which enables BCultured to target BAME students. Ebony elaborates: ‘we want to make them more aware that there are people who look like them working at firms like ours. There tends to be a perception that they won’t fit in if they apply to places like Burges Salmon, but that’s not the case. We’re working hard to dispel the myth’.

In a bid to spread the word, Ebony and fellow BCultured members recently attended a careers event at UWE as part of Black History Month. There they met BAME students and professionals, many of whom were unaware of Burges Salmon’s BAME network. ‘One of the fears of BAME candidates is that they’ll be fighting against different pressures in the workplace. I was asked whether I feel entirely supported by the firm and my stance is always the same. I explain that the firm is very committed to D&I and that we even have a D&I Manager who is fully invested and involved in the aims and objectives of BCultured’.

During October BCultured hosted a number of events to celebrate Black History month within the firm and, in January, we will be hosting a Chinese New Year celebration. More generally, the committee will reflect on the network’s inaugural year, revelling in the successes whilst also building on what has been achieved so far. Increasing membership is also a priority.

Impressively, and despite its relatively recent inception, BCultured was shortlisted for the 2019 UK Diversity Legal Awards in the ‘Outstanding Multi-cultural/BAME Employee Network’ category. Closer to home, the group triumphed in the ‘Best Team Contribution’ category in Burges Salmon’s own Outstanding Service to Clients Awards (nicknamed the OSCAs). ‘It’s been a good year so far!’ chimes Ebony.

Whilst being black was Ebony’s primary motivation to join BCultured, her ethnicity was not a major concern when applying for training contracts. ‘I didn’t really consider being black that much in the context of the legal profession, but it is something which is intrinsic to me so whatever industry I work in, I will always try to join networks or groups which promote diversity. I feel 100% supported at Burges Salmon. I have no qualms with that whatsoever’.

Going forward, BCultured and Burges Salmon are looking at improving inclusion within the firm and within the legal profession more generally. ‘Many firms agree that diversity is important and have made it a priority. But the question is, once you’ve recruited [a diverse workforce], how do you retain it?’, asks Ebony. Retention of BAME lawyers and business services professionals past the junior level has historically been more of a challenge than initially attracting candidates. In order to overcome this, Ebony says employers need to celebrate employees’ identities and help them to feel comfortable being their full selves at work. ‘It’s the next stage in diversity recruitment – how do we move from diversity to promoting a culture of inclusion?’ Watch this space.

Applications for Burges Salmon’s spring and summer vacation schemes are open now. Apply by 10 January.