The issue of unequal racial outcomes across society is becoming ever more urgent, as publication of the prime minister’s ‘race audit’ demonstrated. Theresa May has rightly challenged the Ministry of Justice to address disparities in how people from different backgrounds are treated by the justice system. But the legal profession might take her cue to take a fresh look at itself.
Marking Black History Month, the Law Society’s entrance hall is displaying banner photographs of prominent black lawyers. A glance at the banners or a look at the 500-page Black Letter Law guide makes it obvious that the list of high achievers is longer than many would assume.
And yet – it is hardly ‘job done’. Black History Month is a moment to reflect on the legal profession’s uneven progress against a racial metric, especially in the more monied parts of the profession. For many lawyers who appear on those banners, their achievements were possible because their early work attracted public funding as they built a reputation. Such funding is now scarce.
Some of the most prominent black lawyers started their professional life in Commonwealth jurisdictions, which is a credit to them and the common law tradition. But there is certainly a lot more to do in England and Wales.
Diversity is an issue all professions should approach with a degree of humility. We live in an age of data – and the data is telling us unequivocally we can and must do better.