City University hosts Opening Doors and Removing Glass Ceilings – Widening Participation in the Legal Professions

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The conference, convened by the Centre for the Study of Professional Legal Practice, will take place from 9am to 5.30pm at Gray’s Inn Place, London on Friday, 10th July 2015.

City University London and the Centre for the Study of Professional Legal Practice have convened a fantastic line-up of guest speakers to offer insight into the latest research and debate the most effective practical initiatives for equal opportunities. With a range of speakers, including barristers, education and social mobility experts, non-profit organisation leaders and keynote speaker, Paul Johnston, Director of the Secretariat for the Social Mobility & Child Poverty Commission, the conference promises to offer a unique insight into diversity issues in the legal professions.

I caught up with Marcus Soanes, Barrister and Principal Lecturer at The City Law School, to preview the conference. He assured me that the diversity of the speakers was a very deliberate effort to reflect the aims of the conference:

“It’s important to be able to see people from different backgrounds coming into the legal profession. We want potential lawyers to have that association with their roots and the panel we’ve selected will bring the lived experience that reinforces that association.”

Perfectly willing to talk about his own working-class background and the struggles he faced, Marcus explains how the conference aims to shake-up the traditional perspectives of the requirements needed to become a lawyer:

“We want to help the more traditional solicitors and barristers at the Bar to understand progression, how it isn’t limited to the previously established routes. If we stick to the current system of progression, you probably end up with very able people from advantaged backgrounds. But if you concentrate on those metrics, A Level results for example, you exclude large sections of society who ought not to be excluded. There has to be another kind of metric.”

One of the key issues that Marcus identifies is the gap between diverse representation at the level of pupillage or associate, compared with the partners or the boardroom.

“Part of the reason for the conference is to look at that problem and use the growing body of academic research to understand it. The working practices in place are not conducive to progression, even in terms of equal pay, which, after decades of campaigning, is still an issue. We recognize that these are long standing problems, so we want to encourage the sharing of good practice and let people know there is some light on the horizon.”

With a jam-packed schedule ranging from research analysis to panel discussions, the conference promises to impart a vast amount of knowledge and wisdom. I ask Marcus what they key points he hopes people take away are, and his answer instills yet more anticipation and excitement:

“I want people to feel they have a place and space to join in the discourse. We want time for the presentations, for discussions among the panelists, and audience participation. We want people to feel included. I hope people will continue to talk to one another and even learn from someone that they may not have thought would be able to teach them about diverse progression. The legal profession should reflect the society that it’s seeking to serve. Here at the City Law School we’re committed to making that a reality, we’re in for the long run!”