When We Imagine Fear As Curiosity, We Broaden Our Horizons

By Maroulla Paul for CitySolicitor Magazine, Summer 2024 Edition

Fear. It stops us from following our dreams. And it can make us shut out people who are different from us.

Maybe Black kids think a job as a lawyer in a City firm is beyond their reach. Perhaps White males feel threatened by cultures and ethnicities they do not fully understand.

But this fear needs to be replaced. With curiosity. With knowledge. And with open arms.

Roger Finbow is doing precisely that. After an illustrious career at Ashurst (where he worked from day one until retiring) Roger is now Chair (and was, indeed the Founder) of City Solicitors Horizons programme; a scheme supported and promoted by the City of London Solicitors’ Company which has been highly commended in the Diversity and Inclusion category by the Law Society Awards.

Horizons states its vision to be;

“A society where everyone, regardless of background, has equal opportunity to achieve long-term professional and personal success.”

And has the mission;

“To prepare talented students from underserved and under-represented backgrounds for career success.”

We spoke to Roger about what Horizons is doing – and can do in the future – to make becoming a successful City lawyer not just a dream but a reality for Black kids.

“We started Horizons in around 2015 as a social mobility initiative with the support of the City of London Solicitors’ Company and the Legal Education Foundation. I had always felt that if you come from a socially disadvantaged background you were much less likely to come into our profession. Not because anyone was against you but because it was not a level playing field. If you lacked social and cultural capital, you were simply not going to perform well in interviews, assessment centres etc. I taught someone at Essex University who was living proof of this. His school teachers had tried to put him off going into law in the first place telling him to be a solicitor you had to be middle class. This made me sure something needed to be done. And the seeds for Horizon were sown.”


Horizons takes in around 50 first year university students yearly. They have to have strong academic credentials – or the promise of them – but the focus is specifically not on the Russell Group (although some of its students are from more established universities). Horizons recognises that many people from disadvantaged backgrounds do not have the choice of university that others may. Family commitments, social norms in their community and financial issues often mean they have to choose somewhere local. The intake also had to be from socially disadvantaged backgrounds; this may mean they had experienced time in care, or had free school meals, family income below £30,000 and other broadly recognised factors. There were no targets regarding ethnicity but records were always kept to understand trends. Statistics show that the proportion of Black students has greatly increased over the years and now has reached a massive 43% (up from 33% the previous year).

Each student is given a mentor from one of the sponsoring law firms. They get work experience. They receive training sessions on different aspects of the profession not just in the City but generally. They get 1-1 tuition in terms of completing application forms, preparing for interviews, attending assessment centres etc. They are also provided, if needed, with suitable clothing for interviews – as some simply do not have the means to buy a suit. They are even taught how to knot a tie. It may sound basic, but for a lot of people this is not something they know how to do and can really cause them to lack confidence in presenting themselves. The idea is by the time they reach their third year they can work a room with a feeling of self-assurance that has come from way more than simply being two years older.

Roger says the issue of social and cultural capital is a key factor in not just stopping Black people from entering the profession in the first place but also is a trigger for them quitting it after a few years. The feeling of not fitting in can simply be too overwhelming to overcome.

Roger recounts an interesting tale. Again, while at Essex, he was helping a Black boy with career advice and, alongside, trying to coach him with general etiquette to equip him for meetings and interviews. When he saw the boy holding his coffee cup incorrectly i.e. by the cup itself rather than by the handle, he told him how he should do it and the boy said he had never known that. A few days later, Roger was making coffee for his son-in-law and two of his friends, all White, privileged, old Etonians – and they, like the Black boy had, all held their cups incorrectly. But somehow because of their self-assuredness and their confidence, they were able to get away with it. Roger realised from this that helping someone know how to behave is not enough. What matters more than anything is confidence. Having no fear.

He brought this insight into Horizons and instilling confidence is something the programme strives to do beyond all else.

“We build confidence in our intake by, firstly, showing them that we take them seriously and we believe they do have a future in the profession. We also do things like take them to the theatre and the ballet; things that they probably have never done in their lives before. This opens their eyes and helps build up their confidence. And it is having confidence that will give them the strength to overcome any barriers they may face.”

Roger believes that the lack of Black lawyers at the top of our profession is something that will change with time. Looking at who is at the top now is a reflection of who was entering the profession probably 15 or more years ago when initiatives like Horizons and a more overall commitment by law firms to diversity and inclusion simply were not there. The change in how law firms are behaving and with the advent of support structures and organisations should result in more Black partners.

We need to follow in Roger’s footsteps. Turn fear into confidence. That is how Black lawyers will stay in our profession. And reach the top.