Opening doors for an under-represented demographic
The Freshfields Stephen Lawrence Scholarship Scheme is an example of thought leadership and how we can harness our experience and our relationships with universities, clients and firms such as ours to potentially ‘change the colour’ of elite businesses and institutions in the UK and beyond.
We set up the Scheme to address the disproportionate under-representation in large commercial law firms of black men from low-income households. It is a UK-wide scheme aimed at first-year university law students from this community nominated by their universities as exceptionally talented. Over 130 members of our London office (fee earners and non-fee earners) actively contribute to the Scheme’s recruitment, development programme and mentoring, with the London legal departments of our clients Goldman Sachs and the Bank of England.
The Scheme has had a significant impact on the lives of the near 200 scholarship candidates and around 30 scholars that have been involved. All candidates are offered valuable feedback, career guidance and insight into the profession. Freshfields has so far made three training contract offers to scholars, with four others being offered roles within Goldman Sachs, Deloitte and at a Silver Circle firm. Eniola Asaolu, a 2014 scholar who recently graduated from the University of Westminster, says, ‘Whereas before all I could see was barriers, now all I see is open doors, an abundance of opportunities which I never thought possible. Prior to joining the Scheme my pursuit of a career in corporate law felt as though I was chasing a dream. Now it is a tangible reality. The Freshfields Stephen Lawrence Scheme has truly been a life-changing experience for me.’
‘Whereas before all I could see was barriers, now all I see is open doors, an abundance of opportunities which I never thought possible.’
But the potential of the Scheme goes beyond the relatively small number of individuals it helps. Working with universities across the UK, the Scheme has helped shape their thinking in terms of social mobility, how they deliver on their own diversity and inclusion obligations, and how they select and support students. It has had a significant impact on how we as a firm think about inclusion and has encouraged us to have far-reaching conversations about potential, difference and ‘who we are (or could be)’ as a community, which has in turn shaped our culture.
The Scheme has also strengthened our relationships with Goldman Sachs and the Bank of England, with whom we partner to deliver aspects of training. Kyle Williams, Managing Director in Goldman Sachs Legal, comments, ‘In terms of a diversity initiative in the legal profession, the Scheme is the most innovative thing I have seen in the City.’
‘Our lawyers are proud to have been involved with the Scheme, through giving presentations, sharing our experience, and organising speaking events at the Bank of England,’ says Miles Bake of the Bank of England. ‘Working with the Scheme is an invigorating and valuable way for us to continue our mission to promote the public good.’