Interview: Improving social mobility across the legal sector
Speaking about her own accessibility challenges on entering the sector, Clare Good, a commercial disputes lawyer at Cardiff based Capital Law, shares her thoughts and personal experiences on why the lack of diversity in the industry is stalling wider progression and how she aims to help challenge the status quo.
What challenges did you experience when trying to enter the legal sector?
Historically, legal practitioners are more likely to come from privileged backgrounds, rather than working class. Generally speaking, the higher levels of law are dominated by upper class, white lawyers.
I started my legal career via what some may call a ‘non-traditional’ route. I initially went to university to study journalism, only to realise after taking a media law course, that I wanted to become a lawyer instead. Not long after, I applied to the University of Law in Bristol to do my Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and thereafter my LLM LPC (a combined Master of Laws level qualification with an enhanced Legal Practice course).
Fortunately, I was successful in getting a place and received a scholarship to support my studies. This made a huge difference as funding lengthy legal studies is not something that would have been possible for me at that stage in my life.
It was an incredibly busy time for me, and because of my financial situation, at one point I was working as a paralegal for a local law firm during the week and coordinating children’s parties on the evenings and weekend just to get by. I basically had no other option but to burn myself out to pay for a qualification for a career I wouldn’t even know if I liked until I entered the field years later.
Do you think the legal sector has an accessible career path?
I think the legal sector lacks diversity due to the combined factors that make pursuing a career as a practitioner difficult for those who don’t have affluent, middle to upper class, white backgrounds.
Whether it’s attending a ‘minor’ school, going to a ‘non-elite’ university, not being able to continue into higher education at all due to financial circumstances, or training at the ‘wrong’ firm, these all add up to barriers that permanently impact accessibility across the sector at large.
How does social mobility impact business development?
Throughout my legal studies, I never really thought about the next step of a training contract because I was so focused on my financial situation and working two jobs to sustain myself. I applied for training contracts across Bristol, Cardiff and London not really knowing if I would even be considered because I didn’t attend a prestigious university, or because of the lack of my family history in the sector. However, much to my surprise, and after years of trying, I received a training contract at a regional Cardiff based firm.
Once I was ‘in’ the sector, I knew I needed to do whatever I could do to help impose change – to help those who want to study law but feel alienated from doing so, and because diversity also massively benefits the sector itself.
To have greater representation, from all walks of life, across the legal spectrum, eliminates that ‘one way of working’ and ‘one way of thinking’ approach that the sector has been guilty of at times.
Naturally, involving people with different perspectives and diverse experiences is beneficial when you’re representing a wide variety of people and clients.
This is what clients are looking for more and more these days before they hire a law firm. Ultimately people want to work with a legal team who feel relatable, and who have insight and empathy for their lived experiences.
Are there organisations practitioners can go to for support?
LEDLET, an organisation specifically supporting young people in Wales looking to go into law, has a specific financial fund to provide amazing mentor experiences and actively looks for Welsh legal students from non-traditional pathways to support them in their education journey. There is also the Social Mobility Foundation who provide mentoring schemes.
My firm, Capital Law, is also active in this arena I am pleased to say and has effective diversity and inclusion policies and a committee, which I sit on.
I also work with The Law Society as its Social Mobility Ambassador for Wales to amplify awareness of social mobility schemes pertaining to the legal sector, specifically via my role with Cardiff and District Law Society. The Law Society has a unique scholarship programme – the Diversity Access Scheme – which is designed to address these barriers to the profession.
There are certainly schemes out there, but it can be hard to reach the people they are aimed at. I wish I had known about them when I was attempting to get into the sector.
What does the industry need to do to make the legal sector more accessible?
I would recommend:
Creating diverse routes into the workplace by:
- Making use of apprenticeship and mentoring schemes
- Paid internships and work experience placements
Look beyond the ‘status quo areas’:
- Widen the range of universities you recruit from and liaise directly with lecturers to source the best talent
- Work directly with young professional organisations and groups to share the opportunities available
Keep and nurture talent:
- Monitor socio-economic pay gaps – both gender and ethnicity
- Create an inclusive and welcoming culture that celebrates diversity and different perspectives
Business Wales: Tailored Support
For more information and to speak to a relevant advisor contact Business Wales. Call 03000 6 03000 or visit www.businesswales.gov.wales/
For more information on the Business Wales Equality Pledge, which helps Welsh businesses take pro-active steps towards creating an inclusive, fair and diverse workplace, visit www.businesswales.gov.wales/equality-pledge
To view the wider Business Wales support for the legal sector in Wales, click here.
Legal Expert Sessions
Business Wales has created a series of Legal Expert Sessions, backed by tailor-made ongoing support to specifically to meet the current and future challenges facing the legal sector in Wales.
The sessions are:
- Bridging the gap between recruitment & retention
- Achieving sustainability through effective business development
To watch either event online, CLICK HERE.
The sessions are hosted by speakers who truly understand the legal sector and those who have overcome these challenges for themselves. The inspirational sessions will be followed with opportunities for law firms to access one-to-one support, mentorship and training, with advice from sector experts and from Business Wales.