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Leading From The Front: How The Gatehouse Chambers Charter Is Encouraging Diversity And Inclusion In The Legal Profession – Corporate/Commercial Law



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Leading From The Front: How The Gatehouse Chambers Charter Is Encouraging Diversity And Inclusion In The Legal Profession


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Diversity and inclusion are central to Gatehouse Chambers
values.  The Gatehouse Chambers Charter has been
adopted by chambers as a whole to drive our collective and
individual growth and development. It provides for the practical
application of an intersectional approach to inclusion in a
professional context.

The focus on D&I from market leaders on the solicitors’
side of the legal profession has a longer track record and is much
better resourced than at the Bar. The BSB report on
Income at the Bar – by Gender and
Ethnicity
” was published in November
20201 , the very first attempt to document the
intersectional impact of race and gender on the Bar. Yet
“intersectionality” does not appear in the report. 
Nearly 30 years after Kimberle Crenshaw, Professor of Law at
Columbia Law, coined the term, one barely hears it mentioned among
those at the Bar. More importantly the profession, which sees
itself as a “meritocracy“, has not yet
questioned whether that “meritocracy” is
objective, evidence-based and undistorted by the various and
diverse barriers that exist for many. An understanding of how such
barriers operate to deter, undermine, drain, divert, distract,
exhaust and stifle talent is not widespread. The need to look
like a barrister” and adapt to “fit
in
” still feature as advice to aspiring barristers. Those
that by accident of birth naturally fit and fulfil that description
continue to be recruited, and, more importantly, progress and be
retained, in disproportionately high numbers.2

Diversity at the Bar is important for society given the
Bar’s role in the rule of law and access to justice. For
chambers who want the best barristers with the most rounded life
experience diversity is also important for chambers. As diversity
at the Bar slowly improves, purely civil and commercial sets lag
behind. Those of us who lead such sets must challenge ourselves
– why? Are we all elitist, racist, misogynist homophobes? Of
course not. But for too long we have failed to acknowledge
underrepresented groups (which therefore remain underrepresented)
or that it is for us to do something about it.

Growing numbers of pledges and charters, each addressing a
single characteristic and associated barriers have appeared. Whilst
Gatehouse Chambers has signed up to several such initiatives, we
identified a number of issues. How many are needed for all the
barriers we want to address?  What about the intersectional
impact of multiple barriers? How do they ensure ongoing progress?
That led us to consider whether a better way forward was to work,
as an organisation, to identify our values and aims and then define
our own plan for driving cultural, structural and practical
change.

Through the BSB Code of Conduct, we are a collection of
independent individuals held to account against a set of values and
standards. The cab rank rule, albeit with many qualifications, is
part of that code. It marks us out as a profession committed to the
fearless, independent promotion of the rule of law and access to
justice for all. Adherence to those fundamental principles should
ensure a profession of individuals that understands the importance
and value of working constructively across differences, ensuring
the best possible outcomes for clients, even for those you
personally disagree with. That does not mean it is easy.

The Bar has always seen itself as fundamentally collegiate. Yet
the slow adoption by the Bar of Alternative Business Structures and
other business innovations demonstrate how steadfastly most in
private practice cling to their identity as self-employed
individualistic professionals unconstrained by any corporate
identity. At the Bar, collegiality and individualism co-exist in a
culture steeped in public school tradition and a belief that talent
will be immediately recognisable. Such views are outdated,
uncommercial and do not reflect reality. Chambers develop
identities and reputations for good or ill. The behaviours and
statements of individuals can easily and disproportionately enhance
or damage the reputation of the collective. Those at the top are
not always the most talented. Being good at your job or profession
does not of itself confer any insight into the talents of others,
particularly those who are not like you and who you understand less
easily.

Having reviewed a large number of existing pledges and charters
(in the legal sector and beyond), we identified a number of key
components: senior buy-in and accountability built around
achievable targets and regular reviews of performance against
them.

We wanted to avoid any labelling such as left-wing, right wing,
liberal or conservative because we welcome members from across the
political spectrum but we nevertheless wanted to put forward a
number of principles that would guide our thinking and strategies.
 Our Gatehouse Chambers Charter was drafted, discussed and
agreed with our colleagues not because we are “woke”, but
because we want to be the best, most successful chambers we can be
– to give our members and staff the opportunity to be and
continue to be the best in the profession and attract the best
candidates.

We drew up our Charter not because we wanted to leave behind our
independence but because, as a collection of independent
professionals, we wished to agree and set out our own standards of
conduct and to define our internal values and culture as an entity
that works for all regardless of our differing characteristics,
philosophies or politics.

The Gatehouse Chambers Charter was not devised to be a statement
to the outside world or a measure to garner publicity. It is
intended to encourage all of us in our chambers to move beyond the
expression of laudable ideas towards working to put those
principles and ideas into practice and give us something to measure
ourselves against. For us personally, the Charter demands that, as
leaders of chambers, we hold ourselves to account and work to
achieve the progress that we have said we intend to achieve. We
certainly do not claim to have all the answers but we are committed
to continuing to work on finding them.

Footnotes

1 Income-at-the-Bar-by-Gender-and-Ethnicity-Final.pdf
(barstandardsboard.org.uk)

2 Statistics about the Bar
(barstandardsboard.org.uk)

The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.

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