A London chambers has made it compulsory for all members to attend “anti-oppression” sessions covering the range of protected characteristics.
One Pump Court plans to make the half-day sessions on power and oppression – a catch-all for the impact of discrimination on those who bear the brunt of it – a regular event.
They are run by Raggi Kotak, an immigration and public law practitioner at the chambers.
Writing in the most recent Counsel magazine about racism and the Bar, Ms Kotak said it was important that the unconscious bias widely carried was confronted in a non-judgmental way.
She explained: “As barristers, we are all invested in the idea that we are good, fair and decent people. After all, we stand up for truth and we fight against injustice.
“The idea that we might have racism within us is just not something we will want to accept.”
The problem with this was that it could lead to defensiveness, when self-reflection was needed.
“Instead, we should understand that we are all conditioned into the dynamics of racism, that these are learning moments where we can notice [it] – without being judged – and that this, in turn, can create a possibility of change.”
She said One Pump Court had been considering “how we can change our culture to confront systems of oppression that continue amongst us – not just in relation to race, but also all other social groups – such as gender, sexuality, age and physical and mental abilities”.
Similar training is compulsory for all members of the New York State Bar and of the Law Society of Ontario in Canada.
Speaking to Legal Futures, Ms Kotak said that so far the sessions had been a “complete hit” with attendees; they “were so excited by what they learnt… that we voted in compulsory training for all”.
She continued: “Within the training I firstly talk about how we are socialised around the dynamics of oppression and how our psychology… impacts our behaviour. I talk about how different social groups come to these issues and why it is difficult to have conversations and understand each other…
“The aim is to become more at ease with how we use power amongst us and how that impacts those that are more oppressed in society and in law… so more marginalised groups in chambers [such as] women, people of colour [and] younger members don’t have to bear the brunt of our… oppressive behaviours and thoughts.”
Ms Kotak added that, in due course, voluntary advanced sessions would be held “for those that want to continue the conversation and go deeper with understanding how the issues of power and oppression impact us as colleagues, and how we may be impacting our clients or those in our courts”.
She concluded: “It feels important that we are making the working environment as fair and good to be in for everyone in chambers.”