Guest blog: Putting our money where our mouth is

7 December 2017

CHARLOTTE OGILVIE - GARDEN COURT 

Charlotte Ogilvie, Garden Court Chambers

Winning the Chambers Diversity Initiative of the Year at the UK Diversity Legal Awards last month was an honour for Garden Court Chambers because it was recognition for an initiative which looks to provide long-term and meaningful mentoring which gives real guidance and assistance (practical and financial) to students from the underrepresented minority groups seeking a career at the Bar. 

The Garden Court 'Access to the Bar for All' scheme encourages students from minority and disadvantaged groups to consider a career as a barrister. Sixteen-year-old students, girls and/or those from ethnic minority and disadvantaged groups are offered mentoring for five years and paid internships at Garden Court. Students in the scheme have the opportunity to be awarded a £7000 per year scholarship to assist with living expenses at university if they go on to study a law degree. 

It would have been easy for Garden Court Chambers to wax lyrical about the need to open up access to the profession without actually delivering a substantive programme. We wanted to offer something more than endless week long work experience placements which often have very little benefit to the students in the long term, and are more often than not a tool for someone who already knows someone in the profession to get a foot in, therefore perpetuating the same old "it's who you know…" scenario. We wanted to put our money where our mouth is and so we came up with an initiative which offers long term mentoring and sponsorship for BAME and female students, the groups which remain underrepresented at the Bar.

Mia and Les Garden Court  Mia Hakl-Law, Head of Operations and Human Resources at Garden Court Chambers and Leslie Thomas QC, Chair and Joint Head of Garden Court Chambers, at the UK Diversity Legal Awards 

This was a chambers-wide led initiative which was pioneered by Mia Hakl-Law, Head of Operations and Human Resources at Garden Court Chambers, in conjunction with  Leslie Thomas QC, Chair and Joint Head of Garden Court Chambers and housing and community care barrister, Connor Johnston of Garden Court. Barristers from Garden Court agreed to provide mentoring to students over the course of five years. The mentors were  Di Middleton QC Jo Cecil Paul Clark, Helen Curtis, Gemma Loughran and Ann Osborne

But has it been effective? It's one thing to collect a prestigious award from Chair of the Bar, Andrew Langdon QC, at the UK Diversity Legal Awards, but the feedback from those the scheme was designed for is equally rewarding.

Oaklands School in Bethnal Green, London, is one of the schools with students participating in the scheme. 

Hannah Dalton, Head of Sixth Form at Oaklands School said: "There are very few schemes which recognise the many barriers faced by young people when applying for the Bar, such as being closed out by well-connected, fee-paying contemporaries and the overwhelming costs of University and the Bar course. Garden Court Chambers' scheme is so good because it recognises that one week shadowing schemes, common across the legal field, have little impact on increasing diversity at the Bar as they don't address the issues faced by young people from underprivileged backgrounds. The longer view taken by this scheme is crucial, because the barristers provide support to my students beyond sixth form as they make choices at University, where typically there is little specialised guidance available." 

Garden Court is thrilled and honoured to be recognised at the Diversity Legal Awards for our long term mentoring scheme. Bar Standards Board statistics show that only 36% of practising barristers are women, while only 12% are from BAME backgrounds. There is an overrepresentation of those who attend fee-paying schools at the Bar and barristers are more likely than not to have at least one parent who went to university. We now hope many other chambers will set up long term schemes to address the lack of diversity at the Bar and tap into the rich vein of talent available from underrepresented groups, who have so much to offer the legal profession. 

For further details about the Garden Court Long Term Mentoring Scheme, please contact Mia Hakl-Law, Head of Operations & HR on miah@gclaw.co.uk

Charlotte Ogilvie, Marketing and Communications Executive
Garden Court Chambers