Introducing the Bridging the Bar Champions
The Bridging the Bar Committee met for the first time in the final week of February 2020. The team is predominantly comprised of aspiring barristers and barristers at the beginning of their careers. Each member shares a vision of a diverse Bar that is equally accessible to all, and it is the team’s mission to convert this vision into a reality.
At that first ever committee meeting back in February, the plan was to establish a mini-pupillage programme exclusively for aspiring barristers from underrepresented groups. In order to be successful, the team would need to convince chambers across the country to sign up to the scheme.
From day one, Bridging the Bar had significant aspirations, but a question remained as to whether this group at the start of their careers could deliver.
Recognising the value of experience, the team recruited two ‘Bridging the Bar Champions’ to serve as ambassadors for their mission. To this end, we are proud to have gained the support of Professor Leslie Thomas QC and Professor Jo Delahunty QC.
Both Professor Thomas QC and Professor Delahunty QC agreed to become Champions, after appreciating that it is important for those working in the law to be as diverse as those who are affected by it.
“The Bar is still too white, too male and too middle class. If we want the Bar to better represent the society we are privileged to serve, then we need to actively reach out to educate, inspire, welcome and mentor candidates who would otherwise think of the Bar as a world away from them or not think of it at all ” said Professor Delahunty QC.
Professor Thomas QC added: “it is important to ensure that the next generation of lawyers are creative, talented and diverse and look like the general population they are meant to serve.”
As well as offering support and advice to the BTB committee, the Champions serve a further purpose. They exemplify that diverse candidates can succeed in this profession. Professor Delahunty QC was raised by a single mother who worked three jobs a day to provide for her family. She was once told that she would need to get a first-class degree in order to “make up for a lack of social standing”. Fast forward to now, and she is a Professor, Queens Counsel, Recorder, Bencher and has been granted the Freedom of the City of London in recognition of her contribution to the law.
Professor Thomas QC has also been recognised for his contributions to the law. Since being called to the Bar in 1988, he has carved out a remarkable career, becoming a leading QC in his field, a Professor, and bencher, and has won multiple awards such as Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year and a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Since that first meeting back in February, over 40 different chambers have now signed up to support Bridging the Bar’s flagship mini-pupillage programme. The programme aims to ensure that talented individuals from underrepresented groups are no longer missed by chambers during recruitment cycles.
The application process will be competitive and aims to highlight the brilliant and capable students from underrepresented groups, demonstrating that they are equally capable of being successful at the Bar.
Professor Delahunty QC says to aspiring barristers from non-traditional backgrounds: “Don't pretend to be something you aren't. Don't apologise for where you come from. Don't lose your own voice. Embrace being different. Be proud of it. If you can’t be an advocate for yourself, you can’t expect to be an advocate for others.”
To the wider legal community, Professor Thomas QC makes a challenge: “diversity matters. Bridging the Bar is showing true leadership on this issue. I hope others at the Bar will sit up, listen and follow suit.”
Change does not happen by accident. It takes intention. It takes action. The Bridging the Bar team has positive intentions and the necessary drive to make an impact. But they cannot do it alone.
The mini-pupillage programme is just the start. Equality of opportunity means so much more than just provision of work experience. Equality of opportunity means supporting applicants much earlier in the process, and even after they have secured entry into the profession. To these ends, we are planning to launch further programmes over the course of the next year. With the support of our sponsors, partners and volunteers, the opportunities that we can create together, are endless.
About the Author