Improving inclusion and diversity at the Bar has been a long-standing issue for the profession. Although this year and perhaps for the first time, the entire profession has resolved to work actively and collectively in order to address the continued trend of the under-representation of Barristers from black, Asian, minority ethnic and working-class backgrounds.
Whilst there is a palpable lack of diversity at all levels of the profession, the most crucial barrier to minority groups is that which exists at entry level. Our objective must be to improve access to pupillage in order to increase diversity at the independent and employed Bar. There is a plethora of data demonstrating that white candidates are still twice as likely to procure pupillage than their black and Asian colleagues, even when they present with a similar academic record.
A transparent, inclusive and progressive application process is key to attracting those from diverse backgrounds to the profession. The Pupillage Gateway facilitates this transparency, owing to its accessibility and consideration of only relevant factors which in turn provides the candidate with a degree of comfort and assuredness that they will not be discriminated against at this stage of what is an already daunting process.
A multitude of testimonials express the worries held by many applicants that how they look, sound or identify does not fit the stereo type of what a Barrister should be, and will ultimately hinder them within legal professions and particularly at the bar. Another resounding fear is that during this process, direct or indirect connections to those who work within the profession may trump dedication, hard work and the importance of meritocracy. By stripping away many of the opaque and outdated procedures, the Gateway has provided a more transparent and uniformed approach to applying for pupillage. The clarity and accessibility of the portal is a vitally important factor to attracting applicants from diverse backgrounds. It demystifies the process thereby making it more accessible.
Many candidates who attempt to join the profession from comprehensive educational or working-class backgrounds may not have benefitted from vast amounts of work experience, scholarships or academic awards available. The Pupillage Gateway attempts to ratify this advantage, acknowledging that many candidates may be able to demonstrate their commitment to the profession in other ways, such as voluntary work, mooting or debating skills. Conversely, if oral advocacy is not the candidate’s primary strength, the form provides a platform for the applicant to demonstrate their advocacy, analytical thinking and persuasiveness, through their written skills. It is also important that candidates are aware that their application form will be considered by an assessor from each organisation. The Gateway offers the candidate their first and often only opportunity to present themselves to assessors from each organisation. There are many aspects of the application form upon which a candidate can find reassurance that their experience is important, this also attracts a more diverse skill set to the profession.
Chambers and employers undoubtedly benefit from the diverse pool of talent which the Gateway attracts. Many of the applicants who apply through the platform may be reluctant to apply to chambers or employers directly. The benefit that comes from the clear and structured application process means that assessors are better equipped to assess the applicants suitability, it potentially circumvents any pre-conceived ideas about candidates from diverse backgrounds and provides full and complete insight into a candidates academic achievements, professional experience, and personal attributes. The significant work involved in creating an application process which seeks to improve diversity is essentially provided by the Gateway.
Prior to application processes such as Gateway, applications were sent directly to chambers and employers. There were no means by which to monitor who applied, who was successful and who was not.
It is integral to achieving our goals, that we anonymously monitor the application process and more importantly our progress in enhancing it. It acts as an essential tool in monitoring those who apply for and obtain pupillage as well as those who are unsuccessful. The assembling and studying of anonymised data from the application process can help to identify problematic trends and challenges. It follows that the more that chambers and employers use the platform, the more data and information that can be obtained. The Pupillage Gateway is not only a fundamental tool in facilitating the monitoring of our progress but also in identifying and rooting out the deficiencies which limit and restrict diversity at the bar.
Laurie-Anne Power is a barrister at 25 Bedford Row and a member of the Bar Council’s Race Working Group. To find out more about the Pupillage Gateway and how your chambers or employed Bar organisation can sign up, please contact PupillageGateway@BarCouncil.org.uk.