"Law wouldn’t have been an obvious choice for me but having made it, I want to help ensure it’s an option for others from all walks of life. After working at Lambeth County Court I applied to what was then South Bank Polytechnic to do a law degree and after completing my training at a small south London Legal Aid practice, I began working at what became DAC Beachcroft as soon as I was qualified. I’m still here and I’m passionate about reaching out to law students who might not think a City firm is for them. When I step into our offices in the future I’d like to see a workforce that is more representative of the city we live in.
Diversity in the workplace
"Diversity and inclusion is very important to DAC Beachcroft. The partnership between our firm and LSBU is part of our long-term programme to increase diversity. We also work with the Social Mobility Foundation and encourage all our offices around the country to build links with local communities and universities.
We chose LSBU because of my personal connection and its location so close to the City. As a graduate I already had an understanding of the student demographic and an appreciation of the excellence of the teaching. It made sense to bring the firm and the university together, and Andy Unger, Head of the Law Division, has been extremely supportive of the project.
"We’ve already held two events at LSBU. The first was to introduce the firm to the Law Division as a whole and explain how the partnership works. We wanted to raise awareness of the City and potential career paths, as well as demystifying the application process for a training contract. At the second event, we selected the best 10 students who had completed an essay competition to undertake a mock assessment centre run along the same lines as the selection process for our summer graduate recruitment scheme. This involved a 1:1 interview with me or another partner, a group exercise and a group presentation. We offered them all detailed feedback on their individual performance.
"Our Springboard scheme guarantees the top LSBU law student a place on our summer graduate vacation scheme from where we select our trainee solicitors. We have ring-fenced one training contract each year for a suitable candidate who comes to us either through the SMF network in the regions or from LSBU.
"Students will apply to us and be assessed in the usual way, then compete for the ring-fenced training contract at a final assessment day alongside the other candidates, having all been through the two-week vacation scheme. The idea of the scheme is to give them a real insight into how we work. They get the opportunity to shadow our partners and other senior lawyers, attend client meetings, go to court and get a feel for the culture of a City law firm. In turn we are able to observe them in a real working environment. The programme is very competitive – there are only around 15 training contracts offered each year.
"Sometimes the main obstacle to a student joining a firm like ours is a lack of self-belief. They may just think, 'The City’s not for people like me.' A lack of confidence can become self-limiting even for the brightest students and we hope that some of the insights and opportunities we provide will help address this and inspire them to try. The other issue of course is that we may simply not be on their radar, which is why partnerships that make us visible to a more diverse range of students are so valuable.
"We’re also trying to break down some less obvious barriers. In the mock assessment centre we held at LSBU, for example, we focused strongly on helping students develop the “soft skills” we all need to progress our careers. We have also changed the way we assess applications for the Springboard scheme: we no longer take GCSEs and A-levels into account, only performance at degree level. This doesn’t mean we have compromised our academic standards – we continue to look for the best. It just means that no one is disadvantaged for being a late bloomer.
There are many challenges to increasing workplace diversity and we need a variety of approaches. For BME groups and others where the focus is on increasing social mobility, we need to work on encouraging applications across the social spectrum so we can get good candidates through the door.
"If you are surrounded by people who look and sound the same, your business is less likely to be receptive to creative and innovative thinking – essential ingredients for a successful international law firm like DAC Beachcroft. This is what drives our partnership with LSBU."