Interview with Chris White founder of Aspiring Solicitors: tackling diversity in the legal profession

Aspiring in-house solicitors - increasing diversity in the legal profession

From Lexis®PSL In-house: A series of interviews with in-house lawyers who are professional ambassadors for Aspiring Solicitors, an organisation aiming to increase diversity in the legal profession. To launch the series, Aspiring Solicitors' founder, Chris White, explains what inspired him to set up the organisation and how he is working with the in-house sector to tackle diversity issues.

What is your background and why did you set up Aspiring Solicitors?

I am a qualified lawyer and originally practised in corporate law. After practising for over three years, I took the big step of leaving my law firm and founded Aspiring Solicitors. The idea was to set up an organisation focused on providing help to students from underrepresented groups who want to enter the legal profession. I've always had an interest in this area and have been involved in helping students wanting to be lawyers since I secured my training contract.

The motivation for founding Aspiring Solicitors was my own background and personal experience. I come from a low-income family, attended state school and then went on to study at a non-Russell Group university. I was the first generation in my family to graduate from university and the first to become a lawyer. My own experience has shown me how resistant the legal profession can be to embracing the diverse backgrounds of aspiring lawyers. At one interview, for example, I was told that while my CV was excellent, my Essex accent meant I would require elocution lessons before I could talk to clients.

What is the aim behind Aspiring Solicitors?

The overarching aim of Aspiring Solicitors is to increase diversity in the legal profession. To achieve this, we have three objectives. The first is to provide increased access, opportunities and assistance to students from underrepresented backgrounds who want to enter the profession. Secondly, Aspiring Solicitors wants to educate and inform about the importance of diversity from academic study through to practice. Our third aim is to increase awareness about diversity from within the profession itself.

We strive to represent all aspiring solicitors, including but not limited to those who are state educated, from non-Russell Group universities, disabled, LGBT, black or ethnic minority, women, first generation solicitors, students with accents (regional or international) or who are entering the profession from a non-traditional route. Aspiring Solicitors has always viewed all underrepresented groups as equally important so we don't focus on one particular element of diversity.

What is the role of the professional ambassadors?

The role of the professional ambassadors who work with Aspiring Solicitors is to inspire individuals from all different backgrounds. They use their first-hand experience of the challenges faced by underrepresented groups to provide practical assistance.

We currently have 137 ambassadors of all levels of seniority, employed in private practice, in-house and the academic sector. This breadth represents the wide range of backgrounds of those aspiring solicitors we are here to assist. The ambassadors use their personal experience of accessing the profession to help others dealing with the same issues. This can include help with CVs and interviews or simply talking about how they got to where they are. Part of encouraging diversity is making sure that those aspiring to join the profession have role models to emulate - the professional ambassadors are excellent role models.
We list profiles for all the ambassadors on our website. Members seeking assistance can find an ambassador with the most relevant background and expertise and send a contact request via the website. The ambassadors then get in touch with the member in their own time. Much of this contact is done remotely but the ambassadors are also involved in attending the events run by Aspiring Solicitors.

How are you engaging with the in-house community?

Around 20% of our professional ambassadors are working in-house, so we are in a good position to provide experience from this sector of the legal profession. We would like to work with more companies, so I regularly meet with in-house teams to work towards Aspiring Solicitors' ultimate goal of increasing awareness of diversity across all legal sectors.

I don't think there are any particular diversity issues that only affect in-house so we tend to work with companies as we would law firms. Levels of diversity and awareness of it depend very much on the organisation. Of course some are better than others at addressing diversity but most want to be actively involved and so are keen to engage with the work that Aspiring Solicitors does.

Companies work with us because we are the largest platform in the UK for raising awareness of diversity in law and we reach a wide range of aspiring solicitors from schools to undergraduate and postgraduate level. We can help companies increase awareness internally but, more importantly, by working closely with companies, Aspiring Solicitors can open up opportunities for underrepresented groups. For example, we regularly run networking events and talks for members with businesses such as Barclays. These give aspiring solicitors the chance to meet lawyers, ask questions and find out what it is like to be an in-house lawyer. We also work with organisations to provide work placements for members that provide an insight into the world of the in-house lawyer.

Our approach to working with the in-house sector is going well. I will be continuing to engage new organisations to ensure Aspiring Solicitors provides as much assistance and as many opportunities to underrepresented groups as possible.

For any in-house legal teams wishing to learn more, please email me at chris@aspiringsolicitors.co.uk.
More information about Aspiring Solicitors can be found here.

This interview is taken from Lexis PSL In-house, request a free trial here.

Interviewed by Helen Redding.
The views expressed by our Legal Analysis interviewees are not necessarily those of the proprietor.

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