Accutrainee, the UK’s leading Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) authorised training establishment for lawyers, has today launched its first scholarship programme. This programme harnesses the SRA’s new Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) to help organisations that want to make a real difference in addressing the lack of diversity within the legal profession.
While much has been done to help improve diversity within the workplace, companies – including law firms – are still struggling to create a truly inclusive and diverse workforce. Recent studies show the proportion of Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) law graduates are still heavily underrepresented in law firms; on average, only 16% of trainees at UK law firms are BAME. To improve equality, firms must prioritise accountability, transparency and inclusion.
Going beyond simply offering work experience, the scholarship gives successful candidates of black heritage the opportunity to have their solicitor examinations paid for and, crucially, gain the necessary two years qualifying work experience to realise their dream of becoming qualified solicitors. With a very small financial commitment, sponsors of this new scholarship programme can benefit from exceptional, motivated and diverse talent creating a true win-win scenario, as well as accomplishing their goal of supporting diversity within the legal sector.
To develop and then pilot this scholarship programme, Accutrainee were approached by Selene Brett, Open Banking Implementation Entity’s (OBIE) general counsel and leading legal author, Dr. Catherine McGregor. Selene and Catherine were frustrated by the lack of tangible opportunities to help aspiring lawyers gain access to legal qualification. Having mentored several aspiring lawyers that had struggled to obtain training contracts (despite impressive academic achievements, often gained on top of challenging family and personal circumstances), they knew the issue was not the lack of diverse talent. They felt that companies and industries that prize innovation, such as the fast-growing fintech sector, could benefit from this under-represented talent. As a result, Selene and Catherine partnered with Accutrainee specialists to design an offering that would remove the major obstacles to bringing in trainees, making it much easier for companies to support diversity.
Whilst the programme is designed to run across all sectors, the programme will initially focus on developing a broad range of skills relevant to the fintech sector (e.g. financial services, regulation, data, privacy, IT and IP). As one of the fastest-growing regulated sectors, candidates will gain skills in modern financial and tech regulation, which will equip them with strong core skills from the outset to ensure they become the business partners of the future of this fast-growth sector.
Several firms have already expressed interest in the Scholarship Programme, with OBIE and top ten global law firm CMS committing to take their first trainees through the scheme in 2021.
The Accutrainee team is currently conducting the first round of assessments over the coming weeks to select the first scholars with an aim to have them on secondment by March 2021.
Michael Cavers, Early Talent Partner at CMS, said: “As a global organisation with clients and employees from all walks of life, diversity and inclusion is a central part of our culture. We strive to provide a successful, dynamic, progressive and supportive environment where all our people can thrive. We are dedicated to expanding opportunities for the BAME lawyers of the future and are pleased to sponsor Accutrainee’s scholarship programme. This great initiative will help us, and we hope other firms, continue to improve BAME diversity in the workplace. We look forward to welcoming programme scholars to CMS.”
Susan Cooper, Founder of Accutrainee, said: “Quality and diversity have always been at the forefront of everything we do at Accutrainee. Although we have high numbers of BAME individuals in our trainee cohorts, it has always been clear to us that a lot more can be done, particularly in relation to specific sub-sections of the wider BAME group. Throughout their entire qualification process, we will be offering scholars the same quality training, mentoring and support we have become known for, to help them develop into well rounded 21st Century lawyers. We are therefore incredibly excited to be launching this scholarship programme and of course very proud to be partnering with organisations like OBIE and CMS. We look forward to bringing other sponsor organisations on board to help make a meaningful impact to the widely acknowledged benefits of greater diversity within our profession.”
Selene Brett, General Counsel for the Open Banking Implementation Entity (OBIE), said: “OBIE is proud to partner with Accutrainee and CMS on this programme and welcome more widespread participation in it across the sector. As champions of collaboration and innovation, OBIE is pleased to be at the forefront of an initiative that takes a fresh look at the traditional legal training and qualification route. We want to be part of the development of the talent our sector needs to respond proactively and imaginatively with legal solutions to the evolving regulatory tech space. We have been really impressed by the quality of applications and are excited that we will soon be welcoming our first trainee. We welcome other members of the open banking ecosystem to join the programme too.”
 Chambers Student, Diversity and inclusion, ethnicity in law 2020: https://www.chambersstudent.co.uk/where-to-start/commercial-awareness-info/diversity-and-inclusion/ethnicity-in-law-2020