“Businesses need to get diverse or die.” This powerful statement was delivered by Lord Holmes’ keynote speech at the 2018 PRIME Conference. His story is inspiring. Chris came from a state comprehensive in a town outside Birmingham. He lost his sight as a teenager but went on to win nine gold medals for GB in the Paralympics. He secured a training contract at a leading law firm and was the first blind person they employed. He is now an advocate for social mobility and is leading the campaign to ban unpaid internships.
Lord Holmes’ experiences represent the stories of the young people I meet in my role at the Sutton Trust. Students who are bright and ambitious, but face adversity, come from challenging schools, live in remote areas or don’t have the family network to access opportunities and advice.
Initiatives like PRIME are giving these students the chance to connect with the legal profession. The individuals I spoke to at the Conference weren’t in this business because the firms they work for are looking to tick boxes and fulfil diversity quotas. They genuinely believe supporting PRIME is the right thing to do if we are to see diversity in the legal profession.
It was fantastic to hear from Megan Stewart, a final-year undergrad at the University of Nottingham. She spoke about the impact PRIME and programmes like Pathways to Law had on her life. Megan’s teacher spotted her potential and encouraged her to apply to the Sutton Trust Pathways to Law programme. If it had not been for her teacher, the programme and her family, Megan would not be where she is today: an incoming trainee at Hogan Lovells. As she spoke about her experiences, I felt so proud to be working with PRIME, both as a trustee and a PRIME partner.
The Sutton Trust supports over 400 sixth form students to access work experience in the legal sector. We connect incredible young people with several PRIME signatories, barristers’ chambers and legal organisations to provide work experience opportunities. In a recent report by the Bridge Group, our alumni felt work experience was the most valuable aspect of our programme. This is why we work with PRIME and its signatories. We want to connect more young people to the legal profession so students can make informed choices about their futures, be that a career in law or not. But how do we continue this whilst growing the impact of PRIME?
The afternoon of the Conference was spent focusing on just this. How can PRIME increase the support it provides signatories and delivery partners? We discussed everything from improving data collection to show our impact, adjusting eligibility criteria, ensuring we reach those most in need, to engaging with teachers, and plenty more. The roundtable discussions were fascinating. The session highlighted the goodwill amongst signatories to improve our work. It also highlighted the gaps in PRIME’s work and clarified its future direction.
Collaboration and data collection were two key themes that cut across many of the discussions at the Conference. As a huge champion for collaboration and sucker for data and evidence I left feeling very pleased! PRIME has come a long way since Nicholas Cheffings’ took over as Chair of PRIME and the charity has a lot of fantastic achievements of which it should be proud. It’s so easy for PRIME to rest on its laurels but I am pleased that it’s doing the opposite. PRIME is looking at how it can move forward, better support its signatories and reach more young people who most need their support.
Watch this space.
PRIME Board member, Binda Patel of The Sutton Trust