I took Religious Studies, Business Studies, English and Spanish as A Levels. I liked reading, writing and analysing things that were linked to intellectual pursuits. I wanted to study something with languages and Law seemed like a good choice, so I read Law with Spanish at Sheffield.

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Challenges came thick and fast and started young. I remember deep hostility in primary school and having incorrect grade predictions made when I started secondary school, my reports being mixed up with other Black students and being told by my parents I would face these issues a lot.

I was taught to challenge this. I was 12 at the time. I remember it vividly. I also remember all the Black boys (at the time, I could count all of us on two hands) in my school being placed into isolation without our parents’ permission. Total social exclusion.

I was very academically capable and gifted but wasn’t openly supported by many teachers like many of my white peers were. Some didn’t like the fact that I was intelligent and made their feelings well known. I was kept in lower sets than my aptitude demanded. There was one teacher who did believe a lot in me, Mrs Wade. She taught Spanish and she could see my aptitude for languages. The journey started there. Her support of me really changed my outlook.

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I didn’t know any Black people who worked in law and didn’t see anyone Black who came to law events at university. On the odd occasion, I saw an Asian lawyer but that was very rare. It created a huge problem for me and that influenced my decisions a lot.

There was nothing concrete to help me or anyone to speak to at all throughout my time at university who understood my perspectives and worries. As time went on, I started to recognise mentors did not understand the concerns a young, Black LGBT person had in getting into law. They did not acknowledge that the sector had a diversity issue, especially in the eyes of the public.

It is actually deeply worrying, because we see these issues at universities. It is even worse at a Russell Group university like Sheffield. I was one of three Black men on the course out of roughly 500 people in my cohort. There was another woman of mixed Black heritage who is now at Linklaters. Sheffield had an attrition problem, with Black people leaving their courses early, often after experiencing anti-Blackness on campus.

I don’t think there is (or was) enough mental health support for young Black students. Law is so demanding and you’re going into an environment where people don’t see it as something that you should be doing. People don’t acknowledge that people deal with racism and the impact of navigating that and I did work on tackling that as Vice-Chair of the BME Students’ Committee and BME Students’ Councillor.

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I had to work harder than my other peers to get to the places that I got to, I always had to be “excellent” to even be noticed and even then I was reminded that wasn’t enough. To get into Sheffield was exhausting not because you have to work hard but because people would redirect me to lesser universities or discourage me from applying for law.

I felt like I was pushed to go to any university but the choice to read law was very much one I decided on myself with the support of my family. I had to battle with a lot of people in the education system at my school in Bradford. I felt annoyed because it wasn’t like I lacked the grades. I had A’s through my AS levels. I remember wanting to apply to Oxbridge and the head of sixth discouraged me, but white peers were given that encouragement. I had to fight to get resources and in time, I arrived at university mentally exhausted.

I was worried about getting into the bigger firms. I thought it was quite tricky to get into the bigger firms because of my academics. I achieved ABB at A-Level in the end and for a lot of firms that’s not good enough and that was a huge barrier. I applied to firms and chambers with little success.

On my year abroad, I worked at the legal clinic at L’Universitat de Valencia where I used my Spanish language skills to translate legal documents. Upon returning to England, I was in the university legal clinic and a fellow student told me about my training firm, which offered a route in as a paralegal, which intrigued me. I was able to use my experience at the clinic on my application to Freeths and use that as my route in.

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There are several major issues Black people in law face. I think the first is that the industry acts like there isn’t a problem with attracting, retaining and letting Black people shine in law. Black issues also lost under the unhelpful moniker of BAME. The majority of ‘BAME’ solicitors aren’t Black but are Asian. The number of Black solicitors has remained at 3 per cent for close to five years now and the focus on BAME initiatives are not benefitting Black lawyers. We need to be specific because being vague avoids accountability. No one looks at me and sees ‘BAME’. We should refer to people and groups as they are.

It’s important everyone reads the Black Solicitors Network’s open letter to firms and engages with them for consulting. The imbalanced work allocation to Black lawyers is concerning. People will come to work and I hear of lots of cases where they will ask for work and people won’t give them work to help them progress and learn.

You learn in this industry by doing, that’s why training is practical. Everyone knows this. Yet for some reason, many junior Black lawyers aren’t given access to the best quality work. This creates an issue of experience on the CV and in turn, leads to a high attrition rate between the trainee level and qualified level. If the workplace is hostile, you cannot thrive and reach seniority and this is why many people leave (or are sadly pushed out).

There are also issues for Black people who have other identities such as those who are LGBT or disabled. I think the profession only can understand these identities through the prism of whiteness. People act as if you’re Black you cannot be LGBT or disabled, or that issues affecting ‘women’ don’t apply to Black women (such as the gender pay gap). It’s the ‘All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men’ situation.

Finally, we must make specific provisions for the gendered and racialised experiences of people. The experiences of Black men, Black women and Black non-binary people look very different but are all equally as important as each other. If we look to unearth these experiences and let people speak on them and how these experiences impact them, we will start acknowledging the extent of the problem.

I’m glad that the work we do with the Black Men In Law Network is changing this, but we need firms and sets across the board to treat this problem as a priority, especially with the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement. This is a multi-generational problem and the only way to rectify it is to invest in people today. Tomorrow, as 2020 has shown us, is not promised.