A Time For Reflection – Yetunde Dania


As I sit at my dining table (which has been doubling up as my office over recent months!) I realise that on 2 December 2021, I will have been qualified as a solicitor for 25 years so what an opportune time for reflection.

In 1996 I moved to Birmingham from Leicester, where I studied. At that time I was full of youth, and confidence that I could be anything I wanted to be, provided I worked hard.  This had to be true as my English foster parents had instilled this in me since I was a small child.

Undeterred by some of my teachers who were affronted by the fact I had ambitions to be a solicitor (so much so they even suggested I would be better suited to a career in crime, as a prison warden), my dedication resulted in letters after my name in the form of HND, LLB (Hons), LLM and I also passed the LPC in its very first year.

I recall that the vast majority of my white counter-parts had secured training contracts before we had even completed the LPC, I was surprised that, with all of my qualifications, I was not one of them.

I made application after application to various firms in Birmingham, and like many black budding trainee solicitors then, and even now, I had a lever arch file full of rejections.

I then thought to myself, in a moment of desperation, it must be my name that alludes employers to the fact I am not white and so for a while I made applications under my Nigerian English name, Tina.  I thought that if Tina could just get me shortlisted for an interview, my qualifications, and talent, would do the rest to secure me that elusive training contract, but alas the rejections just kept on coming.  With a slight scoff I even recall one, from a now defunct firm, which amounted to a rejection via compliment slip, I was not even worthy of a letter!

In the end I secured a paralegal position with, at the time, the largest Legal Aid firm in Birmingham, McGrath & Co. The people who worked there were very diverse, but then that was no surprise as the firm specialised in immigration and crime, areas which BAME people are often in the majority in terms of service users.

In the years that followed I worked at a number of different firms in the City and at every one, I was amongst one or two black people, if not the only one, especially at partnership level. The legal community was, at that time, very white and very male. Fortunately, it is less so today but the pendulum still has a long way to swing before true equality of opportunity exists for all working within it.

Many feel the progress of equality of opportunity in the legal profession, based on race, has been made at a snail’s pace over the last 25 years. However, the last words uttered by George Floyd, “I can’t breathe” during the 8 minutes and 46 seconds when his life was being squeezed out of him under the knee of a white police officer, have the power to rapidly accelerate the pace of change.  This is evidenced by the mass protests and demands for change currently sweeping across the Globe, in the face of years of police brutality against the black community.

We should be filled with hope that the outpouring of anti-racism statements and commitments to take action to stamp out inequality, particularly by legal firms, will result in a future where black people and ‘people of colour’, entering and progressing through this wonderful profession, have a much more fulfilled experience.  A future where they feel comfortable being their authentic selves, without fearing that the profession may operate in subtle ways that could prevent them from reaching their full potential.

If we hold to account the law firms that (since the barbaric death of George Floyd) have made commitments to take action to stamp out inequality, it will hopefully take much less than 25 more years to see more than the eight black partners (that l know of, currently spread across eight law firms in Birmingham City Centre) in our Birmingham law firms.

Yetunde Dania, Trowers & Hamlins LLP, partner and Head of Office, Birmingham

Please also find Yetunde’s recent podcast with fellow partner, Amardeep Gill:  https://soundcloud.com/user-270885441/trowersincludes-anti-racism