National Inclusion Week—diversity through the eyes of a senior government lawyer

National Inclusion Week—diversity through the eyes of a senior government lawyer

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The Government Legal Service (GLS) hosted a networking and recruitment event for BAME (Black Asian and Minority Ethnic) lawyers to mark the start of National Inclusion Week. Grania Langdon-Down interviewed Senior government lawyer Mel Nebhrajani who says the ‘diversity story’ should be about the resilience, insight and talent of BAME lawyers and not portrayed as one of ‘powerless victims’.

How did you find life at the Bar?

I qualified in 1994 and did my pupillage at the Chancery Bar, which was then far from being diverse. Part-way through Iapplied for, and got, a tenancy at a traditional Lincoln’s Inn chambers that had only ever had two women and no one of colour. But it was prepared to be forward thinking and it ran a name-blind application process. The top four candidates were all women, with two of us from ethnic minority backgrounds. Idon’t think Iwould have got a tenancy as easily if that hadn’t been the process.

But Ifound practice at the Bar much harder than Ianticipated. The combination of being young, female and Asian wasn’t easy. People often assumed Iwas the court clerk or an usher. My own clients sometimes wouldn’t believe that Iwas their barrister. Solicitors didn’t instruct me because my name was too difficult or refused to instruct me for spurious reasons. Iwas sometimes treated as if Ishould just be grateful to have been allowed to join the club.

I often felt underestimated, particularly by opponents, which Iused to my advantage on more than one occasion. Judges often wouldn’t pronounce my name—and made a point of saying they wouldn’t try—but, interestingly, Inever felt underestimated or overlooked by them in court.

What were the hardest aspects of life at the Bar?

For me, the struggle was more about the lack of teamwork and leadership inherent in a self-employed profession—both of which Ifound mattered to

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