Big firms join forces to improve BAME under-representation

Bi: Action orientated

Twenty one major commercial law firms have joined forces on a new initiative aimed at tackling the under-representation of Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups in the profession.

Legal CORE (Collaboration on Race and Ethnicity) describes itself as “the first leadership-led, cross-firm collective” targeting a “fundamental shift” across the UK legal sector in terms of retaining and promoting BAME lawyers.

The eight founding firms – Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Freshfields, Herbert Smith Freehills, Linklaters, Macfarlanes, Norton Rose Fulbright and Slaughter and May – came together last year and the launch last week saw 13 other practices sign up.

They are Ashurst, Baker McKenzie, Bird & Bird, Burgess Salmon, Scottish firm Burness Paul, Clyde & Co, Dentons, Kingsley Napley, Penningtons Manches Cooper, Simmons & Simmons, Stephenson Harwood, Travers Smith, and Trowers & Hamlins.

One of the first projects will be a pilot of a leadership forum for senior leaders across the founding firms “to facilitate conversations on championing race diversity and explore how to effect change within their firm”.

There will also be a cross-firm hackathon, inviting participants from across the sector to crowdsource ideas, and a best practice forum “to share collective success and challenges on themes such as data analytics, reverse mentoring and retaining Black talent”.

The firms cited Law Society research highlighting the under-representation of BAME groups at partner level among the top 50 firms, as well as lower levels of workplace wellbeing and retention when compared with White solicitors.

Paul Stacey, executive partner at Slaughter and May and co-chair of Legal CORE, said: “We know there needs to be a deeper focus on Black representation and an improvement across other ethnicities at law firms.

“When we came together as a group last year we were all in agreement that by acting unilaterally, firms can make progress, but ultimately we all have similar challenges, so a sector-wide approach will have a more sustainable impact.”

Farmida Bi, Norton Rose Fulbright’s EMEA chair, added: “Legal CORE is different in that we are independent and law firm-led and therefore closer to the challenges that need to be addressed within private practice.

“Our intention is not to create a new charter or replicate existing work, but to be action orientated, act as a convening body for law firms, and provide a forum to find collaborative and innovative solutions.”

Legal CORE is open to any law firm with a UK office.

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