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Diversity Matters: An interview with Paul McFarlane

Our Diversity Matters events have been highlighting the vital importance of diversity in the workplace. Today we’re talking to one of our original Diversity Matters speakers and Director of the Black Solicitors Network, Paul McFarlane. Paul shares his experiences of diversity within employment law and insights into how the legal profession can retain diverse employees.

By Cara Fielder. Published 14 April 2021. Last updated 24 November 2021.

I read Law at Middlesex University and then took the old Law Society Finals at the College of Law in York. I am currently a partner at Capsticks solicitors and specialise in advising on all aspects of employment law, predominantly for employers in the public sector.

I am one of the Directors of the Black Solicitors Network (BSN). As co-host of this event, I was invited to explain what the BSN does and provide some opening remarks about the importance of diversity in the legal profession and society at large.

Diversity is central to what I do as an employment lawyer, for example, providing employers with advice so that they are more diverse and inclusive places to be for all of their staff. This includes not being afraid to tell them where they may have been deficient and help them apply best practice.

The legal sector can improve diversity by recognising there is still a long way to go before it becomes truly diverse and inclusive. It may not feel like it but the profession has come a long way in terms of recruiting black and ethnic minority students. Many firms recognise they need to be seen to be doing something, to be open to draw talent from all sections of society.

However, there remains a big problem when it comes to the retention and promotion of black and minorities ethnic lawyers in firms and in-house departments. Firms need to capture data to find out where the problem is. They need to take steps to be both diverse and inclusive. The need to offer reverse mentoring, sponsorship and give their black lawyers more ‘stretch assignments’ so they can show their potential.

I went from supporting diversity to becoming a public advocate through a combination of things. I became a board member of the BSN and chaired the committee of the Employment Lawyers Association (I am now its Deputy Chair). I’ve written articles in HR, legal and national press on the subject, using social media to draw attention and comment on this issue.

Students can educate themselves to support diversity. Read articles and books like Renni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race. Listen to podcasts and be effective allies; call out racism where you see it. This generation of students is vital in improving diversity. They are the next generation of lawyers and our future leaders.

Couldn't make our most recent Diversity Matters: LGBTQ+ event? You can watch it now on ULaw YouTube channel.


Our next event in the series, Diversity Matters – Mental Wellbeing, is on 13th May at 6pm. For further information and to register your attendance for this free-of-charge event, please check your student email.