Posted on 29th October 2020 — Oliver Chinyere
As a future Trainee Solicitor, I had the benefit of attending Baker McKenzie’s Black Lawyers & Allies Open Day earlier this week. The event demonstrated not only how well Baker McKenzie understands the importance of diversity, but its dedication to broadening access to the firm and legal profession. I attended expecting to share some insights as to how I gained a training contract but left with much more. I hope the attendees did too.
Diversity and inclusion is not a job for any one person or team; the process is a collaborative one, which Partners Sunny Mann and Sarah Gregory emphasised in the day’s introduction. Workshops, skills sessions, and panels flowed throughout the day and did more than provide attendees with practical advice. Black lawyers and allies shared their lived experiences to demonstrate precisely how Baker McKenzie is redefining access for future cohorts.
Partner Yindi Gesinde & Events Executive Karis Berthier illustrated Baker McKenzie’s dedication to diversity, focused on what’s happening behind the scenes. In light of the tragic deaths in America this summer, and despite a pandemic, the firm’s response was to hold a series of global conversations. My takeaway is that diversity and inclusivity is not a tick box exercise; it is a sustained firm-wide effort intended to effect real change.
University students from black (and other ethnic) minority backgrounds face a unique set of challenges. Although the gap has narrowed over time, irrespective of actual talent, black students still receiver fewer 1st and 2:1 degrees than white students. As the Office for Students continues to highlight, for black students, in particular, the consequences of this attainment gap follow them well after leaving university.
Most City firms require a 2:1 degree for a training contract, potentially overlooking many otherwise talented black students. More pathways and alternative assessments are needed to gauge candidate suitability. Contextual recruitment is just one example of how Baker McKenzie avoids this common pitfall, ensuring students from different backgrounds overcome barriers to entry. Because although grades matter, at the end of the day, you don’t work with a CV or diploma certificate, you work with a person.
Like the students who attended this event, I attended career fairs, insight, and open days. I collected pens, totes, and notebooks as I peppered graduate recruiters and solicitors with questions. I wanted to know how many trainees were accepted and retained each year, but I also tried to understand each firm’s culture. I wanted to know what the office was like, the people who worked there, and whether or not I could see myself belonging.
The answers I found made Baker McKenzie my first choice. Of course, I applied elsewhere and was successful in some instances, but something didn’t quite fit. Baker McKenzie is an award-winning global firm with several recognised practice areas. But I also knew any firm’s accomplishments would have little relevance for me if I didn’t feel comfortable being myself at work.
Diversity is one piece of the puzzle, and inclusivity sometimes seems like an afterthought. Getting more diverse lawyers in the building is one aspect, but ensuring they belong, succeed and remain is just as important. And it is Baker McKenzie’s commitment to both that most impressed me.
Diverse workplaces are more successful. In my opinion, they’re better for employees too. Baker McKenzie has already done much to diversify its entire workforce and continues to do so. Still, there is always more work to do, and this event reminds me of how much I look forward to helping.
Oliver Chinyere is a future Trainee Solicitor with Baker McKenzie.