Diversity at the Bar

Dr Miranda Brawn, shares her views on diversity at the bar. She also explains how her hugely successful education, career and diversity charity, The Miranda Brawn Diversity Leadership Foundation is helping to empower the next generation of leaders across all diversity strands and sectors including law and at the Bar in the UK.

2019 not only marks the 125th anniversary of the Bar Council, but also 100 years since the Sex Disqualification Removal Act. This is an Act which paved the way for women to become lawyers for the first time. It is thanks to this Act, that today, there is a ratio of 50:50 male and female solicitors, a statistic which the City hopes to bolster through supporting initiatives such as the Miranda Brawn Diversity Leadership Foundation. The Foundation covers all diversity strands and sectors. It has teamed up with numerous organisations to provide for example Hogan Lovells Law Scholarships and work experience at various law firms and law chambers.

The Lord Mayor of London, Mr Peter Estlin, has recently called for the UK’s legal sector ‘to move into the 21st century’ by increasing diversity and equality as part of a major speech at the annual Judges’ Dinner to be held at Mansion House, in 2019. The Bar Standards Board (BSB) has published its annual report on diversity at the Bar on 1st February 2019. The report shows that progress was made in 2018 with regard to both diversity at the Bar and to the disclosure rates of barristers providing data. While the diversity of barristers is improving, the report shows that more needs to be done to improve diversity within the profession.

Some of the key findings include:

  • at 62.0 per cent, men still outnumber women at 37.4 per cent at the practising Bar. The percentage of women at the Bar overall increased by 0.4 per cent during the last year;
  • the percentage of Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) practising barristers has increased by 0.3 per cent compared to December 2017. 13 per cent of the practising Bar is now BAME;
  • male QCs still outnumber female QCs, but the percentage of female QCs increased from 14.8 per cent in December 2017 to 15.8 per cent in December 2018. The poor pipeline of female employment silk applications is not due to shyness or lack of ability; it is structural, and based on retention and opportunity. This places responsibility on law firms for their instructions, and chambers for their work allocation.
  • The percentage of BAME QCs has increased by 0.6 per cent year on year with 7.8% being BAME and 87.9% being white; and
  • the gender and ethnic diversity of pupil barristers is roughly in line with the population of England and Wales, with 50.4 per cent of pupils being female and 16.3 per cent being BAME.
  • The data suggests that a disproportionate number of barristers attended a UK independent secondary school between the ages of 11-18. The proportion of barristers who went to independent schools is higher than in the wider population; with 15.5 per cent (including non-respondents) having primarily attended an independent school between 11-18, compared to approximately 7 per cent of school children in England at any age, and 10.0 per cent of UK domiciled young full-time first degree entrants in the UK in 2016/17. Of those that provided information on school attended, around 33 per cent attended an independent school in the UK.

The BSB has a statutory responsibility to monitor and promote equality and diversity both as an employer and as the regulator of barristers in England and Wales. The more accessible the Bar is, the better it is able to represent the society it serves. Equality and diversity should be priorities. The data shows that there was a steady improvement in gender and ethnic diversity at the Bar. However, the upper levels of the legal profession appear to be dominated by white, British males. During 2018 however, more work is required to achieve our end goal.

Diversity within the judiciary is fundamental to a truly democratic and legitimate legal system. It plays a quintessential part in enabling the enforcement of key acts, preventing discrimination and infringements of the rights of the nation’s citizens. Only where there is diversity within a body that arbitrate in matters of considerable import will UK society find that its blend of cultures, genders and religions are reasonably and respectfully protected and promoted by the law.

There are many benefits to be derived from much greater judicial diversity. It affords equal opportunities for all aspirational individuals harbouring ambitions within the field of law. It also lends weight and credibility to the decisions and outcomes of judicial reviews. A judiciary comprised of a broader range of backgrounds and experiences will create an improved form of judging. The issue of judicial diversity has attracted increased political attention over the past two decades and various panels have found that there is a strong case for judicial diversity. It reached the view that there should “be equality of opportunity for those eligible to apply” and “in a democratic society the judiciary should reflect the diversity of society and the legal profession as a whole.” Judges drawn from a wide range of societal starting points would bring varying perspectives to bear on critical legal issues. It stated that a judiciary which more closely mirrors the everyday world of the people will doubtless inspire more public confidence.

From my personal perspective, diversity has improved over the years especially in comparison to when I had first entered the City of London in the 1990s. However, we need to focus on the speed in order to help increase the numbers for gender, race and other strands such as social mobility, age, LGBTQ+, disability and so on. It was while I was speaking at a gender diversity event in UK Parliament that I had decided to focus on a different approach to help make a change. Thus, I came up with the Miranda Brawn Diversity Leadership Foundation – with the initial goal to have more ethnic minorities across the UK workforce including at the Bar at senior levels. This has broadened out to include all forms of diversity strands now. When I had launched the Foundation in January 2016, it was initially to help raise the awareness of and act upon the racial diversity gap via one self-funded scholarship. I was receiving thousands of emails from young people asking for mentoring advice and work experience. This led me to have the idea to launch a diversity lecture to help educate, give information and empower our next generation too. There were lots of events and support for diverse employees once they had entered the workforce but not enough for those who were still at school, college and/or university. Hence, the Foundation was born from my idea of innovative scholarships and a diversity lecture which made UK history in 2016 for being the first of its kind. This was hosted by my law school, The University of Law, and they have supported my work from since the very beginning.

My main argument for diversity and equality was that it was a necessity with a strong business case to help increase company profits while providing the extremely important morale and fairness factor. That said, we have to also change the culture of organisations that promote diversity by making them more inclusive in order to keep talented women and minorities. Diversity training is going to be key in order for this to work.

The Miranda Brawn Diversity Leadership Foundation have now helped to impact approximately 50,000 young people with 40 scholarships being awarded this year. The Foundation have helped our next generation of leaders across the UK workforce, including the City of London, to succeed at their education and career choices while helping to close the diversity gap. Our work includes the diversity leadership scholarships (funding, work experience and mentoring), mentoring programmes, educational diversity lectures, networking opportunities (including Inner Temple Annual Garden Party). Our scholarship winners have also met HRH Prince Charles of Wales, HRH Countess Sophie of Wessex and Rt Hon John Bercow MP alongside other top leaders, plus assistance with education and work opportunities.

An example is last year’s social mobility scholarship winner who is studying law at the University of Kent and has aspirations to be a Judge. We have arranged for them to have mentors who are a commercial lawyer at a top city law firm and a criminal Queen’s Counsel at a top chambers in London. This has provided the scholarship winner with the variety of knowledge in order for them to make informed decisions about their career including work experience at an award winning chambers focused on diversity in London.

We have helped to move the dialogue from gender to ethnic minorities and now we focus on all strands of diversity. There is still time to apply for our law scholarships as the deadline date has been extended until the last day of September 2019. We welcome supporters to join us to help us diversify the Bar and other areas within law.

Dr Miranda Brawn Biography

Born and raised in London, Dr Miranda Brawn has spent more than 20 years working in finance and law within the City of London, starting at the tender age of 18 years old. She worked her way up the career ladder in an unconventional way from an operations analyst to front office sales trader and now senior banking lawyer after being Called to the Bar of England and Wales. She has blazed a trail in the process to inspire our next generation of leaders to follow their own path to success.

Further information about Dr Miranda Brawn and The Miranda Brawn Diversity Leadership Foundation can be located viahttp://mirandabrawn.com and http://mbdiversityleadership.com.

 

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