A barrister with a spinal cord injury has described how a set of chambers, despite being told in advance that he was disabled, offered to carry him up the stairs to a pupillage interview.
Daniel Taylor, who has now secured a pupillage, said the “quite shocking” state of court buildings was another challenge, which had left him “travelling halfway across the country to a building I can’t even get into”.
Mr Taylor, speaking at a Legal Services Board event at City firm Clifford Chance on equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) challenges in the legal sector, said many chambers buildings were “very old and inaccessible”.
During the interviews he undertook before securing a pupillage, despite being informed in advance about his disability, chambers would forget and say they could not find their ramp or offer to “carry me up the stairs”.
We reported last month that the Bar Standards Board has written to chief planning officers in central London to express concern at the difficulties chambers face in adapting historic buildings for disabled access.
Meanwhile, many courts had not been updated since the 1950s and 1960s, and were in a “quite shocking state”, Mr Taylor said. Without the physical infrastructure, talking about improved access “does not mean anything”.
Mr Taylor said someone from his background, a state school in rural East Anglia, would struggle to get into the Bar without help.
It was only when he found Bridging the Bar, a non-profit initiative to improve diversity and inclusion, on Twitter and joined its academy programme that his “eyes were opened” to what he needed to do to get a pupillage.
Mr Taylor said one of the big challenges for people trying to become barristers was funding – for example for transport or accommodation to enable those who lived outside London to take part in a mini-pupillage.
Reena Parmar, chair of the Law Society’s Disabled Solicitor Network, said she had “multiple intersectional identities” as a disabled South Asian woman.
She said sometimes it felt like a “competition” between different minority groups for resources, “almost like a fight”, which was a shame.
Nina Goswami, head of inclusion for the UK at Clifford Chance, said the law firm had developed a “theory of change” on EDI which including changing the rules, culture and lived experience, together with a code of conduct.
She said the law firm’s affinity groups were “at the heart of” its EDI initiatives, such as its Race, Equality and Celebrating Heritage (REACH) network, which was responsible for the firm’s reverse mentoring programme.
Danielle Douglas, head of procurement at Clifford Chance and co-chair of REACH in the UK, said there was “definitely a gap” in the law firm diversity statistics when it came to non-lawyer business professionals like herself.
“I understand why statistics are centred around lawyers, but the delivery of legal services is not restricted to lawyers.”
Ms Douglas said she did not always feel “represented or included” in the statistics.
Sharon Thomas, a former senior in-house lawyer and founder of the Black Counsel Forum, said the “elephant in the room” was the way that the “mood music was changing and shifting against diversity and inclusion”.
Ms Thomas said a government lawyer had told her that every diversity initiative was now being scrutinised by senior managers.
“The anti-woke agenda is impacting on all of us working in this space. Is the business case for diversity really being made? Why is there such a massive pushback and what are we doing about it?”