‘In Black and White’: A Necessary Read for Legal Professionals (03/03/2021)

Picture is of Alexandra Wilson’s book, ‘In Black and White’. The cover is a picture of Wilson, with the title on top. The sub-heading reads: A Young Barrister’s Story of Race and Class in a Broken Justice System

In our previous blogpost, we highlighted the issues that face the Scottish legal profession in terms of ethnic minority representation. The post explored the statistics, strategies in place to tackle problems and referenced those tackling underrepresentation – including ‘In Black and White’ author, Alexandra Wilson.

Wilson is a mixed-race barrister from Essex. ‘In Black and White’ follows her journey through pupillage, and she shares stories of interactions with clients, colleagues and judges. Through these stories she explores class, race and gender in the justice system of England and Wales. Her stories illustrate the reasons why ethnic minority representation in the legal profession is so important.

Our Student Director, Lucy, and our Assistant Office Manager, Emma, recently read ‘In Black and White’ and want to encourage others to read it. You can see their thoughts on the book below.

What part of the book resonated the most with our research for the Equality in Law project?

Emma: For me, it was a quote from chapter 8 of the book, ‘Being Black’. Wilson was recalling a time when she was representing an 18-year-old Black male. Before entering court, another barrister told her: “at least the racist judge retired. I’ve got a black kid today and he would have had no hope”.

Picture is of a tweet from Wilson. Caption, ‘in just 3 months I’ll be defending and prosecuting in the Courts of England and Wales. I’m 24. I’m mixed-race. I’m from Essex. I’m not posh. I worked hard and NEVER listened when people said the Bar wasnt for people like me. THIS is what a barrister looks like.

This quote was particularly striking for me as it shows that racism within the criminal justice system has almost been normalised. When we have people in powerful positions such as judges, impartiality is crucial to ensure everyone has a fair trial. Judges bringing their own prejudicial views into work could severely impact those from ethnic minority backgrounds who already receive custodial sentences more frequently than those who are white.

Furthermore, this kind of common knowledge could deter those from ethnic minority backgrounds from entering the profession. No one would want to work in an environment where they do not feel included or welcome, therefore it is important for the profession to do more to tackle this behaviour.

Lucy: There were so many brilliant parts of the book to choose from, but a quote that stuck out for me was: ‘Many of these families were black or from an ethnic minority background, but that diversity was not reflected in the people representing them. There seemed to be such a disconnect when a white male barrister with an upper-class accent approached these families.’

I think this really captures the message that we are trying to communicate in the Equality in law project: a more diverse profession is a better one. Throughout the book Wilson describes the experiences her family and friends have had with the justice system. These experiences, such as her uncle’s horrendous treatment by police officers during a routine stop and search, meant that she was impacted by the justice system long before she entered it as a barrister. These are experiences that many white, upper class barristers will, statistically, not have had.

Wilson brings with her to the profession, not just her brilliant mind and ability to fulfil her role, but a capability to connect with people in a way that – as she explores in the quote above – some of her colleagues may not be able to.

Why should people read this book?

Emma: I believe everyone should read this book whether they intend to pursue a career in the legal profession or not. The recent wave of the Black Lives Matter movement has highlighted the idea that it is not enough to not be racist, we must be actively anti-racist. It is the responsibility of everyone to educate themselves on how to do this and this book is a great place to start.

Wilson covers a range of topics from the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, the murder of a family friend, the assault on her aunt and uncle by the police as well as her own experiences on her journey to becoming a barrister.

Picture is of a tweet from Wilson. Caption reads, ‘Honestly it really does mean so much to be doing something like this with @CBeebiesHQ. This might be the first time many little children will see a barrister/lawyer. This is how we change perceptions. Thank you so much to @gold_wala for the brilliant filming.

Lucy: It is only by listening to, and learning from, stories like Wilsons that we can truly understand the importance of ethnic minority representation in the legal profession. Wilson does a brilliant job of challenging the perceptions of what a barrister should look like, or sound like, or which school they attended. She has recently been involved in a  CBeebies programme called ‘What’s on Your Head’, in which she explains why she has to wear a wig as a barrister (watch here). This, as she explains, might be the first time children watching the programme have seen a barrister or lawyer. This is the type of change we should all be enabling.

This book focuses on the legal profession but highlights the wider role that race plays in society. Wilson cites some brilliant resources to learn more about this, such as ‘Why I am no Longer Talking to White People About Race’ by Reni Eddo Lodge and ‘Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire’ by Akala.

We are also encouraging our readers to donate to ‘Black Minds Matter’ (BMM). They connect Black individuals and families with free mental health services — by professional Black therapists to support their mental health. BMM launched a campaign yesterday to reach 21 thousand donors, committing to donating £5 a month.

Reading ‘In Black and White’ should be a necessary step in a wider commitment to promoting change in the profession and in society.

By Emma Smith and Lucy Mackay 

Representation of Ethnic Minority Groups in the Scottish legal Profession (12/02/2021)

The representation of ethnic minority groups in the Scottish legal profession is an important access to justice issue. Everyone should have the right of equal access to the profession.  Moreover, as Alexandra Wilson (a young, mixed race English barrister) recently noted, a more representative profession also better serves our clients.  She wrote in her 2020 autobiography, ‘In Black and White’ that:

“clients are from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds; they have different accents from different parts of the country, as well as different nationalities and ethnicities.  We need … to reflect this so that the public feel confident that we are diverse enough as a body to be able to relate to and understand their circumstances – otherwise how can they trust that the system is fair?”

At GCU Law Clinic, we believe that a more diverse profession is a better profession.

Yet, in the Scottish legal profession, there are concerns that the profession lacks this diversity.  In 2018, the Law Society of Scotland commissioned the Profile of the Profession Report.

The report found that, while 2.7% of the general population is Asian, only 1.7% of respondents to the research were Asian.[1]  Less than 1% of respondents to the research identified their ethnic group as Black and, while 1.2% of the general population is Polish, this figure was less than 0.001% amongst survey respondents.[2]  This isn’t just about numbers – it’s also about tackling discrimination.  The research showed that, while 19% of ‘White – Scottish or British’ respondents said they had personally experienced discrimination, this figure was 27% for ‘All other ethnic groups’ and 32% for ‘White – Other’ respondents.[3]


In recent years, important work has been done to try and tackle these issues.  SEMLA – the Scottish Ethnic Minorities Lawyers’ Association – was founded in 2017, aiming to facilitate a diverse and inclusive legal profession in Scotland. SEMLA aims to provide support and create career opportunities for ethnic minority lawyers and law students in Scotland.  We’d really encourage our students to get involved in their work – if you want to learn more you can listen to our podcast with SEMLA’s Naeema Sajid here.


Another proponent of change is Rupa Mooker, a lawyer and Director of People and Development at MacRoberts LLP. She has noted that:


“The knock-on effect of the lack of diversity in our profession, at not just a senior level but at any level, is stark. We know that students from BAME communities are disproportionately over-represented on the LLB per head of population. However, these numbers are not translating to traineeships and NQs. … The perception is that although firms say diversity is important to them, they are not showing it.”[4]

So how do firms show that diversity matters to them?  Mooker has called for unconscious bias training for lawyers to help tackle discriminatory attitudes and noted that allies – particularly senior lawyers – need to lead the way.[5]


Law firms are starting to make changes.  For example, Dentons have launched their “Accelerating Race Strategy Action Plan”[6], which includes a commitment to launching a BAME student scholarship programme to strengthen the firm’s graduate recruitment pipeline. The Law Society of Scotland has this month launched their new Racial Inclusion Group, with Tatora Mukushi, a solicitor with Shelter Scotland, as the Convenor.  The Group aims to provide a better understanding of the lived and professional experiences of its Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic members and to offer recommendations on how to improve racial inclusion across the profession.


While there is still more to be done, these changes are important and welcome. To return to the words of Alexandra Wilson, diversity makes for a stronger, more representative profession, better able to deliver access to justice.


With thanks to Abby Duncan, Aidan Donaghy, and Amy McCubbin for their research assistance in drafting this blog.

[1]Profile of The Profession Report 2018” Law Society of Scotland accessed: 4/12/20 p.24

[2] Profile of The Profession Report 2018” Law Society of Scotland accessed: 4/12/20 p.24

[3] Profile of The Profession Report 2018” Law Society of Scotland accessed: 4/12/20 p.72

[4] “Rupa Mooker: Why is There so Little BAME Representation in the Scottish Legal Profession?”  accessed: 4/12/20

[5] “Rupa Mooker: Why is There so Little BAME Representation in the Scottish Legal Profession?”  accessed: 4/12/20