Race Equality Awards 2017-Norton Rose Fulbright: Increasing BAME Trainee Representation

In 2015, one in eight of the UK working age population was from a Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) background, but only one in 10 of the UK workforce. 18% of UK students in higher education were BAME and 40% of the working-age population in London came from a BAME background.

When global law firm Norton Rose Fulbright examined its own Global Engagement Survey data in 2015, it found that BAME employees in London measured four percentage points lower for overall engagement than white employees. BAME employee turnover was also higher than for white employees and the firm was recruiting disproportionately fewer BAME employees, which was negatively impacting overall BAME representation.

In October 2015, the firm’s Solicitors Regulation Authority diversity survey found that BAME representation was 11% amongst partners, 13% amongst associates and 16% amongst UK business services and trainees. Although the firm had an informal target of 25% BAME representation amongst its trainee population, this was not being consistently met. To address this issue, the target was formalised by the Diversity & Inclusion Committee in July 2016 and the trainee recruitment team devised a targeted attraction and recruitment strategy.

Norton Rose Fulbright worked with Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO) and Aspiring Solicitors, which provide educational support and career access to young people from under-represented backgrounds. These relationships were key to attracting and hiring many of the firm’s BAME vacation students and trainees, several of whom held competing offers. The firm also supported Pure Potential, an organisation which aims to bridge the gap between students and leading employers and universities through face-to-face meetings, their website and the sixth form guide APPLY.

In 2015, Norton Rose Fulbright began using Rare Recruitment’s Contextual Recruitment System, which enables the firms to add the context in which students have achieved their academic results, highlighting top performers from disadvantaged backgrounds. The software hardwires social mobility metrics into the firm’s existing Applicant Tracking and Rare has provided training to all employees involved in screening applications.

For the 2016/17 recruitment year, Norton Rose Fulbright trialled ‘blind’ recruitment for vacation schemes and trainee contracts. Interviewers were not provided with applicants’ academic profile, but only whether or not they were studying a law degree. This approach aims to promote diversity in the firm’s trainee population.

Norton Rose Fulbright regularly hosts lunches and open days in its offices for students considering a career at a global legal practice. The firm has also arranged Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) dinners during the summer vacation schemes. These dinners give students an opportunity to meet with employee network leaders and D&I committee members in order to gain a better understanding of the firm’s culture and its commitment to D&I. These events are now permanent features of the summer vacation schemes.

As a result of formalising the BAME representation target and focusing on specific attraction and recruitment initiatives, BAME trainee representation within the firm has markedly improved from 15% BAME trainees in the 2015 intake to 36% in 2017, and the firm is on track for a similar representation in 2018. In the 2016 winter vacation scheme, 26% of participants were BAME, rising to 45% in the 2017 summer vacation scheme.

Work is ongoing to develop the firm’s BAME trainee recruits. Trainees are supported from the point of offer to the point of qualification. Throughout their studies at law school, they receive support from a dedicated trainee development team and are allocated a trainee buddy and an experienced Partner mentor. Trainees are also invited to join the firm’s employee networks and attend events. The trainees’ seat supervisors and Partner mentors are briefed on how to successfully supervise and mentor diverse talent, an awareness and skill which is required to ensure impactful and sustainable diversity management.