Samuel Clague: Increasing the representation of Black people in law
Samuel Clague Founder & CEO of The Stephen James Partnership, shares his initiatives to increase the representation of Black people in law.
I run the UK's one of the only Black-owned legal recruitment company. We have been working in this space for 10 years. 2020 was a year that caused significant introspection for companies and individuals. I am of mixed heritage (Barbadian and English). I wanted to give more back to the Black community, and around a year ago launched a number of informal drop-in sessions, whereby law students/graduates from the Black community could call me on my personal mobile to discuss anything they wished, usually covering career advice, CV review etc. However, I didn’t feel this was enough. Many people I spoke with yearned for the opportunity to gain experience in a law firm, and to have something that would help them secure future employment. Following the death of George Floyd last year, we launched a number of initiatives to increase the representation of Black people in law.
The first iteration was an access scheme to give those from disadvantaged backgrounds a leg up into law. Unlike some previous programmes, this scheme aims to remove all forms of barrier to the legal profession. Grades are not included in the assessment process, and we welcome applicants from all stages of their careers. We have three pools of people that we work with, with programmes tailored to suit their needs. This covers 16–18-year-olds, undergraduates and postgraduates and mature students. We ask all participating firms and organisations to commit to internships of at least one week, with many extending these to several months.
We prioritise those people that come from the lowest household income families, that do not have any form of legal network and that went to state school. Our internships pay at least the London living wage, and where necessary internships can also include the cost of travel, lunch and full business attire, so that for those that are struggling financially there are no economic barriers to them participating.
Our second programme (Black vacation scheme) provides a dedicated route into vacation schemes for Black students and graduates. This was launched to complement our access programme and provide a dedicated route into leading law firms from an organisation that for the last decade has specialised in legal placements. Many of our community have not had the sufficient knowledge of varying law firms, and often our candidates have lacked the confidence to apply to firms where the majority of partners are white. We believe it is incredibly important for more to be done to directly increase the representation of Black people in law at all levels. The SRA ethnicity data from 2020 states that currently around only 3-5% of qualified lawyers are Black. This number drops significantly to less than 1% at partner level. We hope with BVS in particular (as successful vacation scheme students can be offered training contracts), that not only do firms benefit from engaging top quality talent, but we also hope that in due course the increase in hiring Black trainees will directly lead to an increase in the SRA ethnicity data in future years.
Across the programmes, we invite previous participants to come back and provide coaching and guidance to future applicants. Due to my heritage and SJP’s business model, we feel very fortunate to be uniquely placed in this space in relation to the authenticity of what we are doing and trying to achieve. We saw an opportunity for a Black-owned legal recruitment company to be able to support the community which I am proud to be from. In the last few weeks, I’ve had prospective clients ask me where I am from originally, and that I don’t look or sound like how they expected. I hope that through sharing some of my story and the reasons behind our programmes, that we can help move the dial on race within law, and that other people from the Black community can see what we are doing to try and level the playing field.
We have a wide pool of clients that currently includes a number of top 30 law firms. We have been fortunate to assist hundreds of Black students and graduates in the short time we have been going, and very much hope that with the momentum we have in this space that we can have helped 1,000 Black people by the end of 2021.