The diversity movement in the law profession continues to gather pace as the UK Law Society elects its first Asian and Muslim president, Lubna Shuja, who is due to become the first Asian, the first Muslim and the seventh female president in October 2022..
Lubna Shuja (left) set up her own practice and was one of the very few Asian, Black or minority ethnic solicitors practising in Britain. There are now over 20,000 and half the UK profession is women as it is in New Zealand and elsewhere.
An interview in Australia with the National Vice-President of the Asian Australian Lawyers Association (AALA), Molina Asthana who said the Shuja election “. . should also help build the collective effort that is needed to improve racial equity and inclusion across the legal sector and wider society.”
The AALA supports Asian Australian lawyers has branches throughout Australia with some 1300 members and undertakes a variety of programs to assist Asian lawyers advance in the profession, including through scholarship programs, mentoring, networking, advocacy workshops, and initiatives for foreign qualified lawyers.
While Australia’s South Asian community was the fastest growing in Australia, the statistics within the legal profession do not demonstrate diversity is occurring as it should. There are few partners, judges or other senior members of the Australian legal profession.
They are, she says, hitting the “bamboo ceiling” in the law. In her case she says she has faced a “double-glazed glass ceiling”.
“We have just started seeing a few but you could count them on the fingers of one hand.” She said the issues within the legal profession are more extreme than other industries.
“There are strong stigmas and biases that exist in many industries, but tends to be worse for those that are traditionally hierarchical like the legal industry.
“As a woman of colour myself, I face the double glazed glass ceiling. Though successful in my own right, I am the first woman of south Asian heritage to be elected as president elect of any Law Society in Australia, however I still face barriers and biases.
“I have had to work doubly hard to prove myself, my mistakes are picked up and highlighted more so than people of Anglo-Saxon background, my efforts are constantly undermined, I am often spoken over and considered a troublemaker for having a different opinion.
Similar experiences have been shared by other members of our association and lawyers of diverse backgrounds.”
She believes that diversity breeds diversity and that having clear objectives towards achieving greater diversity, including the use of quotas and inclusion committees is one path forward towards diversity in the law.
“Organisations should report on cultural diversity in addition to gender equality. Accountability is important. A plan is as good as the paper it is written on if there are no key performance indicators. Simply ticking the box is not going to cut it.”
Advice From Lubna Shuja
The Advice From Lubna Shuja, as a member of a minority community within the law but who has risen to the highest level of the profession in the UK and for those seeking to advance their careers was outlined in an article in UK’s Legal Women magazine:
“My advice to others is to challenge yourself and step outside your comfort zone. Take every opportunity that presents itself, as you never know where it may lead. Keep an open mind about your career path as you may find success in unexpected places. Block out the negative voices and take a leap of faith. After all, what have you got to lose? ”
The diversity in the law problem will remain but as the communities they represent become more diverse, so too will the numbers of minority groups reaching the higher levels within the profession.