Law firms are fooling themselves if they think they can attract the best talent without embracing diversity and proactively encouraging school pupils, according to a former senior City solicitor turned teacher.
Khasruz Zaman, now a south London maths schoolteacher, is trying to encourage his pupils to take up a career in the law, after himself reaching the pinnacle of the legal profession.
He was previously a solicitor at Slaughter & May and Hogan Lovells, then global head of M&A at Barclays and a partner at Simmons and Simmons.
He told Legal Futures that he was born in Bangladesh and moved to Smethwick in the Midlands as a child, the son of a steel worker.
English was his second language and he experienced racism, but he persisted and studied law at King’s College before training at Slaughter & May. Two-thirds of his current pupils were from Afro-Caribbean backgrounds, most of them living in Peckham council estates.
He warned that lawyers in future would insist on firms recognising the importance of diversity. Meanwhile, firms must “do a lot more” to support the process of making themselves accessible to diverse talent, he said, since diversity was actually a “key driver” for success.
Mr Zaman continued: “They are deluding themselves if they think [they can continue to] attract the top talent without properly embracing diversity.
“The next generation, in terms of its values, and ethics… is going to make that a big factor in their choice of which law firms that they are going to be willing to join [and] stay with.”
The starting point was transparency, he said, citing the experience of the BBC when it came under fire for a serious gender pay discrepancy. The same was true with the incidence of under-represented ethnic groups in the law.
A likely solution was being proactive in reaching out to those people when they were at school: “Where the students start from backgrounds which are very different to [the people in] your own law firms, it is vital to reach out [to them] at a much earlier stage…
“Students [must not] keep counting themselves out, because they can’t imagine themselves… working at those law firms. If they start meeting people from those firms earlier – throughout their school days – then those sort of barriers in their heads will start to be dismantled.”
In fact, repeatedly seeing representatives from law firms encouraging them would pay dividends, Mr Zaman argued.
“These young people will start believing that actually even if they… don’t look like them… ‘well, actually, I can go into those jobs because all those friendly people came in [and were] willing to help me out’.”
After a lifetime in the law, Mr Zaman was convinced that focusing on the recruitment phase alone was insufficient. The statistics on ethnic minority lawyers at senior levels in the profession bore this out.
Further, transparency about representation would make firms question ‘why is this happening?’, he said, and lead “to the soul searching that is required [and] actually internalised in terms of the culture”.
Khasruz Zaman switched careers thanks to Now Teach, a charity specialising in helping professionals from other fields become educators