Breaking Barriers to Entry in the Legal Field

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The past year has been monumental for a variety of reasons. At The Stephen James Partnership, we had to rethink our business model in the wake of COVID-19. Typically, we staffed onsite review teams for legal departments. However, this was not an option in this new world that began to take shape in March 2020.

So we partnered with Morae Global on shifting our business. In 2019, we discussed a potential partnership around document review with Morae. A few short months later, onsite reviews were no longer an option. As a result, we accelerated the timeline of our partnership. In this partnership, Morae facilitated offsite reviews with their Virtual Remote Review solution, powered by RelativityOne, and SJP provided the talent.

Identifying and Dismantling Barriers to Access

Changing our business model, all in less than a year, was big. But SJP also launched a program that, to me, is even bigger, and is dear to my heart: Black Interns Matter.

Black Interns Matters’ aims to place more than 1,000 Black interns within law firms and legal departments by the end of 2021. This program is personal to me. During my career, I have faced many race-related barriers. Launching this program was not a quick decision. I have been engaging with the Black community and strategising on implementing this program for years. I've become well versed in the barriers to entry into the corporate world.

Statistics show this is the reality. There continues to be a dearth in representation from minority groups in legal.

TheCityUK’s 2020 legal services report found Black, Asian, and minority ethnic attorneys comprise 21 percent of the workforce in law firms and 13 percent practising barristers in the UK. The report went on to say that, “partnerships at their firms are deeply lacking in diversity and most acutely by socio-economic background.” The SRA data for 2020 confirms that Black solicitors make up only 3 percent of all qualified solicitors.

It is no secret that socioeconomic background is a significant determinant in opportunity. For many Black professionals, access to internships is not possible. Often, there are costs associated with internships that are not expensed by a company—covering anything from transportation to business clothes.

Teaming up with the Legal Team Community

Through Black Interns Matter, we are removing those barriers to access. We are providing, at minimum, a London living wage. We offer allowances for daily travel, food, and, if applicable, technology. In addition, we provide each intern with full business attire. This way, there is not the need for some to ask a friend to borrow a suit for their job. Therefore, interns can come to their first day feeling comfortable and confident. Unlike many other programs, we don’t have entry requirements. Our candidates don’t need to check a box in completing a particular training or attending a certain university. We look for passionate young individuals looking to make their mark in this field.

As an industry, we need to recognize that the playing field is not level to start with. There needs to be a major shake-up. We must remedy the lack of representation of Black people in legal services. We are so grateful to have business partners, such as Morae, who sponsor this program. It is the mission of SJP and our sponsors to widen access to the legal sector at large.

My vision? Take the legal world, and the other service lines that follow, by storm.

Note: We have sponsor organizations signed up to the program from private practice. We are now looking to legal departments and legal technology companies to become partners too. If you would like to be a part of this change program, please feel free to get in touch with me at samuel.clague@thesjp.co.uk.

Samuel Clague is the founder and CEO of The Stephen James Partnership, a London-based staffing agency.

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