A mentoring scheme involving qualified Black lawyers and senior lawyers in other law firms, to be launched next week, aims to help firms retain Black lawyers as well as understanding the obstacles they face.
Samuel Clague, founder of legal recruiters the Stephen James Partnership (SJP), described the Qualified Black Lawyers Matter mentoring scheme as a “leadership development tool” for firms and in-house legal departments, as well as a way of helping Black lawyers get to “the next level”.
The scheme will be funded by law firms or in-house legal departments paying for senior members of staff to mentor a Black lawyer at another organisation, in a way that benefits both sides.
Mr Clague said he expected that 98% of mentors would not be Black and some would be working in firms with no Black lawyers at all – as with SJP’s existing Endeavour mentoring scheme for aspiring Black lawyers, launched in 2021.
“A 60-year-old White heterosexual partner told us that his eyes were opened by meeting someone he may not have come across before.
“Firms will be able to learn by doing this. They will be able to understand the challenges facing Black lawyers and celebrate their successes.”
Mr Clague said mentoring could enhance the leadership skills of senior lawyers, improve their listening and communication skills, help them retain staff and make their law firms or departments more productive.
A further advantage would be improving senior lawyers’ skills as mentors, which they could put to good use in internal mentoring schemes.
Choice of mentors would be “led by mentees in terms of what they want to achieve”, helping them understand “how to get to the next level” and build networks.
All the mentoring will take place online, avoiding the need for people to “have to meet in a coffee shop in London” and enabling mentors to be based anywhere in the world.
Using an online platform would make it easy for big organisations to “scale” their mentoring and enable SJP to monitor the number of interactions, and provide prompts or suggest improvements.
Mr Clague said more than 200 people were currently using the existing Endeavour platform.
He said that, although there may be “positive outcomes down the line” and some mentees on the Endeavour programme went on to obtain training contracts or places on vacation programmes, mentoring schemes were “not a recruitment tool” or a way to “poach Black talent”.
While recruitment was often more “talked about”, there was “a lot of work to be done” by many firms on the retention side.
“Just hiring people doesn’t necessarily address potential barriers. The new scheme will give firms the chance to hear from qualified lawyers at every stage of their career. Even if you’re 60, there are new things you can learn.”
Mr Clague said mentoring could “highly advantageous” for firms in terms of diversity and inclusion, but it could also improve their ability to generate income, at an “uncertain” time when some diversity budgets were “very low” and heads of inclusion were leaving as a result.
“External digital mentoring can help firms build more diverse organisations for the future. It can help them become places where people from often marginalised groups can get to the top and be treated exactly the same as everyone else.”