Selene Brett joined open banking infrastructure provider Yapily as its chief legal officer in March. Prior to this, she was general counsel at the Open Banking Implementation Entity.
Here she shares her story of learning more about the need for diversity and getting involved with the Accutrainee Scholarship programme, which supports those who are underrepresented in the legal profession.
Diversity has been a major focus of most law firms in recent years but there are still issues. A majority of law firms have a high proportion of privately educated lawyers and partners while the issue of tokenism is also rife throughout city firms.
What more can in-housers and firms do for diversity in the profession?
Don’t underestimate the impact that one person or one team can have in terms of sharing expertise, connections and bringing diverse talent into the profession. It’s personal and powerful and doesn’t have to be through a formal program. It also has fantastic ancillary benefits for you and your wider team in terms of fostering a shared purpose and pride in being part of something wider and more positive than pure legal work.
Why is this vital for in-house leaders to consider?
For whatever reason, there is a lot of potential and talent out there that isn’t getting a fair shot at the legal profession. And the issue is much wider than race. The current picture does not reflect well on our profession, and I’m surprised it is still this way, particularly since so many of us were attracted to law to fight for the underdog and for fairness.
What other changes do you want to see in the legal industry?
I want to work with the best talent out there. Flexible thinkers and problem solvers that are adept at coming up with innovative, pragmatic solutions. That’s what I want for my teams and from the external teams I use. Countless studies show that DE&I is essential for that. Ultimately, I don’t like hollow soundbites – if your leadership team, the partners you make up, and the lawyers you bring in and promote look and sound remarkably similar, please don’t post self-congratulatory messages about the strides you have made. It doesn’t wash!
Why is D&I vital for in-house leaders to consider?
For whatever reason, the current picture does not reflect well on our profession, and I’m surprised it is still this way, particularly since so many of us were attracted to law to fight for the underdog and for fairness.
The talent pool is there – it’s a question of opportunities. The Accutrainee selection process is rigorous and the quality of the scholars is really high as a result. The scholars are mentored and supported by Accutrainee who take care of the SRA elements too.
This is intended to work with any other DE&I initiatives you are already running. In-housers should focus on the opportunities this brings and not the (minimal) extra effort it takes to set-up. Talent and diversity are two hot buttons for all companies and their CEOs. This is a way that the legal team can play a pivotal role in helping to solve that problem at their firm.
Tell us more about your work on the Accutrainee Scholarship programme. Why is this so important to you?
About five years ago I was invited by Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer to attend a presentation by Annette Byron, a real estate partner, source of inspiration and the founder of the Freshfields Stephen Lawrence Scholarship Program. The program aims to increase the representation of black men from poor backgrounds in traditional City professions (like law and banking).
I was blown away by what I heard and saw. The scholars were amazing. Smart, funny, self-effacing and with apparently little regard for how extraordinary their achievements were, particularly in light of some of their personal stories.
For example, studying while acting as primary carers for parents/siblings, coming into the U.K. education system with little spoken English, dealing with homelessness or gangs (“it’s just what we do” was the response of one of the scholars when I commented on this). I left feeling pretty humbled.
In the years that followed, I was lucky enough to get to know a number of the scholars, through work experience, presentations, the scholarship application progress etc. and I made some great friendships. Fast forward to the summer of 2020 and the murder of George Floyd. I wanted to find some way of channelling the shock, anger and sadness so many of us felt into something tangible and positive.
Around this time Kevin O’Shea from Accutrainee approached me. Subsequently, Kevin and the wonderful and incredibly connected Dr Catherine McGregor and I met up to discuss the Accutrainee model. It quickly became apparent it was amenable to being a D&I program (as well as a flexible resourcing model).
We wanted what became the Accutrainee Scholarship Program to be as easy as possible for firms and in-house teams to support. All it takes is a willingness to bring on diverse junior talent for six months as a secondee. In March 2021, the OBIE and CMS became the first firms to hire Accutrainee Scholars. We have since been joined by American Express and YouGov.
The Accutrainee Scholarship Programme offers a simple solution for legal leaders to make a positive impact in supporting diversity in law through the delivery of high quality junior resources. The scholarship goes beyond simply offering short term work experience to scholars but rather a genuine root to qualification through training contract or qualifying work experience opportunities as well as meaningful contributions to their studies and exams.