Birmingham Law Society’s first black president is to be sworn in this afternoon, ushering in what she describes as a period of ‘huge readjustment’ for the profession.
Inez Brown, partner at national firm Harrison Clark Rickerbys, said she is ‘supremely proud’ to be the first black woman to take up the post in over 200 years and plans to ‘shake up’ the largest law society outside London with initiatives around flexible working, technology and social diversity.
Speaking to the Gazette, Brown said there ‘definitely is a race problem in law firms’, citing issues around recruitment and career progression.
‘You find that black students will only be able to get training contracts at high street practices that offer housing, family, criminal or immigration [law],’ she said. ‘You also find that even if firms do take on black solicitors they will reach maybe associate level – some do reach partnership level – but they are not going to be equity partners. There’s a disparity in the progress they make within those law firms. Pay is another big issue.’
However, Brown said firms are starting to take active steps to find out why they are not attracting black talent. ‘Although the profession is not where it could be, I can see [solicitors] are starting the conversation.’
On coronavirus, Brown said many firms in Birmingham are carrying out risk assessments with a view to reopening in September. However, she is ‘already being told there will be job losses’ once the government's furlough scheme comes to an end.
‘Firms need to be careful they don’t make their high skilled solicitors redundant because when things improve in six months’ or 12 months’ time and the economy is doing much better they are going to need to start recruiting – and the very skilled people they have made redundant will have gone elsewhere,' she warned.
As president, Brown will introduce a scheme to provide two students from disadvantaged backgrounds with legal scholarships in partnership with the University of Wolverhampton and the University of Law. She also intends to organise a lawtech conference in Birmingham and conduct more research into home working.