It Doesn't Matter If A Cat Is Black Or White, As Long As It Catches Mice

By Maroulla Paul for CitySolicitor Magazine, Summer 2024 Edition

A simple yet straightforward and accurate statement. If only we applied it to humans as well as cats.

Despite commitments to and declarations of fairness, of inclusivity, of equality – our world is still, in reality, lacking in all of these things.

To enter into certain worlds as one from a minority group is difficult in itself. But even when that hurdle is overcome, the way to the top is filled with even more barriers.

Edward Enninful became the first Black editor of Vogue magazine – but even then the struggle did not end. During Covid he was refused entry by a security guard into his own offices and, adding insult to injury, told to use the tradesmen’s entrance at the back of the building.

Simply because he is Black.

At the time of writing this article, our media is full of another racist attack against someone who also achieved her success against all the odds. Frank Hester, who has donated £10 million to the Tories, reportedly said the MP, Dianne Abbott – the first Black woman in Parliament – made him want to ‘hate all Black women’.

Is our own profession as guilty as everyone else?

Over the next few pages we are going to explore the truth behind how Black lawyers are treated within the legal profession; the struggles they face getting in in the first place, staying in and getting to the top. We begin with the 1% study, which looks at how (a rounded up figure) only 1% of partners in law firms are Black and we examine how we can address this imbalance. We also look at a study carried out by the Legal Services Board (LSB) on counter-inclusive behaviours. We talk to Black lawyers who have made it to partner level to hear about their journey. We look at whether there are differences between private practice as opposed to the Bar. We explore the perception that we are generally more progressive and less racist this side of the pond; is this a reality or merely wishful thinking? And, most importantly, we talk to people who are working to make inclusion more than just a tick box exercise through regulatory work, committees, initiatives and everyday working practices.

At a time when our profession celebrates the election of Hervé Ékué, the first ever Black Managing Partner of a Magic Circle firm, A&O Shearman, we have to understand that strides like this – and as huge as they are – are still few and far between. Black leaders should not be something that makes headline news because they are so rare, but should become as normal as having public school White males at the helm.

It is about time we learned to focus on which cat is the best at catching the mice; irrespective of anything else.

The Chair of the City of London Law Society (CLLS), Colin Passmore sets the context for City Solicitor’s in-depth examination of the treatment of Black lawyers within our profession.

“Last autumn, Matthew Rous (our CEO) and I had a first (for some time) meeting with the then CEO of the LSB, Matthew Hill.

The three of us had a robust debate about the tiny number of Black lawyers who are partners in big City law firms. While offering to help us, Matthew from the LSB also indicated that if firms like our members didn’t get their houses in order and address this issue then at some point our regulators might take action.

It is not obvious to me quite how regulation would work here, but no matter: it is a serious issue and I took that challenge seriously. As a result, (our) Matthew and I left the LSB’s offices clear that we – the CLLS – need to look into this issue, try to understand what forces are at work here and then see what if anything we can do to help effect positive change. As a first point, we started to tackle the many studies and surveys on ethnicity issues and the CLLS engaged a couple of talented undergrads to help me analyse the numbers – which are indeed shocking.

At the same time, I asked a few representatives from our membership to get together to share experiences and knowledge and to help me better understand the challenges we need to overcome if faster change is going to happen; that in due course led me towards extense, their CEO Julian Richard plus their invaluable 1% report from 2022, with which a number of major City firms were fully engaged.

I don’t pretend to have the answers that will see change come quickly – I fear this is going to take time, as we have a long way to go to ensure that the numbers of Black lawyers coming into the profession is replicated at the more senior ends of our firms. But we need to improve awareness of the issue, ensure that we are able to have a proper discussion about what is going on and see where we can add momentum to the change that has to happen here.

For that reason, and not without some nervousness, I suggested that this edition of City Solicitor adopt a real focus on the issue of the absence of Black partners in City firms (recognising that there are some rare exceptions): to improve awareness, aid understanding, share experiences and provoke some debate – all in an effort to see what CLLS can do to help our member firms. The articles in this edition illustrate the scale and nature of the problem, but they should also give us cause for hope because it is clear that there are organisations in the City who have for years been quietly and effectively seeking to help Black lawyers (and others) – including some of our member firms. Rightly or wrongly, I should also single out Roger Finbow at City Solicitors Horizons and Raphael Mokades at Rare Recruitment, both of whom are featured in this edition, showing the sorts of things they have been doing for years now.

I hope this edition achieves its aim of shining a constructive and educational light on a difficult challenge which we should work together to address – not just because of the LSB threat, but because it is the right thing to seek to do. Let us know if you have any thoughts and ideas on what we at CLLS can do to help promote a City wide response. We do not have a monopoly on ideas and I am grateful for the help we get from the working group I mentioned. If you would like to contribute to our debate, please do get I touch.”