Fee-share law firm Setfords has become what it believes is the first practice to launch two mentoring schemes aimed at aspiring and qualified Black lawyers respectively.
The Endeavour programme and Qualified Black Lawyers Matter mentoring scheme were set up by Samuel Clague, founder of legal recruiters the Stephen James Partnership.
Launching the latter in July this year, he said it would be funded by law firms paying for their lawyers to mentor Black lawyers at another organisation.
Agatha Edeko, consultant solicitor at Setfords and a mentor, said in a roundtable discussion at the launch in London that she had felt “very alone” as a young mother trying to find a training contract.
Ms Edeko, who joined Setfords in 2014 and specialises in property and wills, went on: “The challenge for me was finding a training contract that also enabled me to juggle motherhood and begin a career in law. I did not have people around me to guide me and I was very much on my own.
“I did seek career advice about my specific position, but this was not helpful at all. Eventually, I took matters into my own hands and wrote 44 letters to different law firms receiving just one reply in return.”
Ms Edeko said she pressed on and found a trainee solicitor position in a high street law firm.
“These were difficult times, as I had two young sons to care for, and in order to keep my job, I had to put in extremely long hours.
“During this time, a mentor would have indeed been a great help to me, which is why I want to offer whatever I can from my personal experiences to somebody starting out in their career.”
Pearl Moses, director of compliance at Setfords and another mentor, said mentoring helped her find the right career path.
“For me, I learned what I didn’t want to do when I was mentored, before I found the career path that led me to where I am now. I came into legal compliance through legal publishing and editing, a sector I had no idea existed as a job, but which opened my mind to new possibilities.
“Somebody once said to me, ‘now that you are here in this profession, when you look behind you, who do you see coming?’ This is why I wanted to be involved with Black Lawyers Matter. Mentoring is a gift, and an opportunity to pass batons on to a new generation.”
Ms Moses mentors aspiring lawyer Nylah Clarke-Mills from Leicester. Ms Clarke-Mills said: “It was extremely inspiring to see Pearl together with the other Black lawyers and hear their stories on their route to qualifying and perspectives on the lack of diversity in law at the moment.
“Their unwavering determination and passion to help those who are entering into the legal sphere and bridge the gap was clear from the start. I particularly liked their open-mindedness at the opportunity to learn more from us mentees.”
Suzy Blade, head of HR at Setfords and a mentor, said: “We heard inspiring and important stories from some of our lawyers about their own experiences as Black people in the legal profession, and particularly in those early years after education and starting legal training.
“Their journeys can be an inspiration to a new cohort coming through into the legal industry now and in the future, helping them grow in confidence and see that obstacles around diversity and inclusion really can be overcome, resulting in rewarding and fulfilling careers.
“We are one law firm within an industry that needs to do much more to break down barriers of entry and work harder to retain talent that might otherwise leave the sector after a bad experience.”