CoP’s commitment to equality and sustainable business: your letters to the editor
CoP’s commitment to equality
Well done for publishing Mbombo Kaoma’s open letter (15 June) on race equality in light of the Black Lives Matter protests.
How pervasive is structural or institutional racism within our profession? This is difficult to know. But we cannot escape the fact that despite all the efforts of the Law Society and other agencies to encourage us to become more diverse, we are still (particularly at the higher levels) very far from being representative of the wider community. With a quick check of my own privilege, I can only acknowledge this inconvenient truth and wonder whether the sense of urgency accompanying recent events might be a defining catalyst for accelerated change.
The above, however, comes with an observation. While I cannot speak to the court system in its totality, as a frequent practitioner in the Court of Protection, where cases often involve decision-making on behalf of members of the BAME communities, I can say with a high degree of certainty, that at every level – from district judges (certainly in London) to High Court judges of the Family Division – all concerned show an extraordinary level of dedication. This is not just to managing cases without bias (which would be the minimum expected), but by spending enormous energy and effort to support and show the greatest degree of sensitivity to the needs of such minority clients.
A recent case stands out, where the protected party – a young man of African descent – had caused considerable concern in the local community. A very senior judge, completely off his own initiative and uninvited by the parties, identified a flaw in the psychiatric reports and ordered a new report (which vindicated his concerns). He then spent the best part of a day leading the examination of witnesses, including family members, absolutely determined to find out the fine-grained details of the young man’s life and ‘who he was’. It was very moving.
While current Court of Protection judges may not be especially ethnically representative, we might want to give them credit for their fullest commitment to meaningful equality within their part of the justice system.
Campbell-Taylor Solicitors, London N4
Sustainable business will be the ‘new normal’
The Legal Sustainability Alliance noted with interest Jonathan Goldsmith’s article Closing the Circle on Climate Change (1 June).
Covid-19 has affected every aspect of our professional and personal lives. Talk has turned to the ‘new normal’ of a safe return to work and what that might look like post-pandemic. Addressing the climate emergency must be central to any new way of working. Lawyers and firms have adapted to an alternative way of working: time in front of a screen has replaced time commuting (with obvious environmental benefits). Overnight, ideas that the LSA has been advocating for the last 14 years, such as reducing air travel and cutting carbon emissions, have become operational everyday practice.
Pollution levels are down, air quality is improved, wildlife is returning to urban landscapes and nature is regenerating. Carbon emissions are predicted to be down in 2020 by 4%-7%. Although not huge, this is a significant shift towards helping the UK achieve its net zero targets by 2050. This shutdown is not desirable, the pain and loss of Covid-19 are immense and not the route any of us would have chosen to address climate catastrophe. We do however have to learn the lessons, both for public health and the environment, as well as see how we can move forwards sustainably.
The LSA is at the forefront of this agenda for the legal profession, as a UK network of over 180 law firms supported by the Law Society. It seeks to encourage the profession to work more sustainably and reduce its impact on the planet, not just by cutting emissions but through changed behaviours by working collaboratively with clients and colleagues to share best practice.
We would argue that as influencers and leaders, lawyers have the ability to support and challenge themselves, clients and policymakers to move this agenda forward. The pandemic shows that we are globally connected and climate change, like Covid-19, has the power to affect us all. The legal profession has a key role to play. Sustainable business is good business and will become the ‘new normal’.
The success of 2019’s The Chancery Lane Project has now, with the help of thousands of pro bono hours, created the Climate Contract Playbook and the Green Paper of Model Laws. Both are evidence that ‘the legal community has a responsibility to ensure the whole machinery of law, public and private, is brought into line with the objective of a just transition to a climate-resilient and net zero emissions economy’, as Lord Justice Carnwath states in his foreword to the Playbook. As Greta Thunberg says: ‘If not now, then when? If not you, then who?’ This call to action matters now more than ever.
Caroline May (partner, Norton Rose Fulbright), Matt Sparkes (head of corporate responsibility, Linklaters) co-chairs, Legal Sustainability Alliance
Despite significant reforms to legal representation over the past 15 years, we are still left with the continuation of a 19th-century model of a tiered profession. The report published by Professor Stephen Mayson (Register every lawyer regardless of qualification – Mayson review, 11 June) seeks to change that with reforms that would see a legal services market open to full competition, benefiting consumers and improving access to justice for all.
In our view the initial knee-jerk reactions from the Bar Council, Law Society and others are disappointing. Consumers and young people looking for legal careers deserve better.
Now is not the moment for narrow sectional interest to take precedence over the need to make the changes that will achieve our shared goals of equity of access to justice and effective legal redress.
The continuing insistence on professional differentiation based on whether or not a lawyer has qualified through academic study or through learning on the job is entirely inappropriate in a modern society and often means excluding lawyers from diverse social backgrounds.
There is far more to be gained for society as a whole by engaging constructively with these important proposals than will be lost in terms of perceived self-importance. There is a need for a constructive dialogue about how we can make our profession genuinely diverse, inclusive and able to deliver effective legal services in a digital world.
Professor Chris Bones
Chair, the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives, Bedford