Our people and our business
Local action for global change
Our inclusion goals and ambitions to ensure access to the profession for all are global; local action driven by colleagues in multiple countries on a diverse array of tailored initiatives is helping us achieve our aims.
As we seek to break down barriers to our profession across intersectional dimensions of diversity, our colleagues across the world have been collaborating with others to ensure that talented individuals who want to pursue a career in the legal sector can do so. Below are just some examples of our programmes that are making an impact across the world.
Hong Kong Work Experience Programme
This intensive and bespoke programme gives minority students access to Freshfields and helps our colleagues to better understand the challenges faced by individuals in the communities we work within.
In Hong Kong, our partners The Zubin Foundation, CareER, the Children’s Development Initiative Alliance and Queer Straight Alliance have helped find in-person work experience placements for first or second-year law students from a diversity of backgrounds, including individuals from less economically privileged backgrounds, those who identify as an ethnic minority, are neurodiverse or who identify as LGBTQ+.
‘The learnings are two-way,’ says Amy Tye, Senior Manager for Diversity and Responsible Business. ‘Students ready to share their lived experiences provide insight into the experiences of less privileged people from ethnic minorities in our predominately Chinese community. Finding employment at organisations like Freshfields can be difficult because they are not native Cantonese or Mandarin speakers. Women can also be discouraged from undertaking higher education. Insights into these individuals’ experiences can help leaders shape policies.’
Feedback from the students has been very positive. Like other students, Pergrin Hui contributed to the firm’s active mandates, including a pro bono project to improve animal welfare. ‘I was quite pleasantly shocked at the international scale of Freshfields’ pro bono project. I could sense its far-reaching impact when I knew that the project has compelled the American Bar Association House of Delegates to pass a resolution to urge all nations to negotiate an international convention for the protection of animals,’ she says. ‘I learnt to be meticulous about the formatting and styling of the documents I produced, from the naming of the document to the use of Freshfields templates.’
Pergrin has also been accepted to join the firm’s 2023 summer vacation scheme, potentially giving an alternative route for diverse students to join Freshfields.
Since 2007, we have been providing summer internships in the US through Legal Outreach, a non-profit organisation, preparing urban youth from under-served communities in New York City to be admitted to college.
Legal Outreach is an intensive internship, which uses legal and educational programmes as tools to foster students’ vision, develop skills, enhance their confidence and facilitate higher education. Students also have the chance to informally network with Freshfields leaders over a meal and go to a Broadway show. Over 50 colleagues in the New York office participate in some capacity so the programme is also a great community building exercise among our own people.
Again, students found the experience transformative. ‘From the beginning, when I saw Freshfiels' office building, I got really excited,’ said one 2022 student.
‘I’m really proud of what we continue to achieve with this programme,’ says Freshfields Partner Tim Wilkins, a sponsor of the initiative. ‘The impact on students’ lives is clear: many of them express a desire to pursue a career in law, and all of the Freshfields’ Legal Outreach student interns have gone on to four-year colleges. It’s critical that we play a leadership role in creating greater access and racial justice in our profession. This programme helps our interns see professional careers as achievable, as well as being an amazing experience they remember for years to come.’
Aspiring Professionals Programme
We support talented young people from social mobility “cold spot” areas in the UK, giving them the skills needed to reach their full potential.
In partnership with the Social Mobility Foundation, in 2021 we launched a three-year development programme to raise aspirations, establish professional networks and build confidence in a professional setting. Aspiring Professionals includes a dedicated Freshfields mentor, an interactive career insight week and skills sessions with Freshfields’ clients.
We measure the outcomes through several different methods, including data tracking, student surveys, qualitative student feedback, student observation and mentor feedback. We know that 87 per cent of the 2021 cohort are at university; 60 per cent of those at university are at a Russell Group University and 8 per cent are at Oxbridge; 3 per cent are completing degree apprenticeships; and 10 per cent are currently resitting exams, in employment or on a gap year.
The first two cohorts of students have provided fantastic feedback. ‘What I love most about this programme is that it allows me to help these students to unlock their potential and make them realise that they can actually fit into this world, that they can have a seat at the table, and that they have potential within themselves that they don’t realise,’ says Zilan Sahan, a Freshfields Responsible Business intern and previous student of the programme. ‘I can understand how important this programme can be to young students to achieve their goals and see new perspectives.’
As with other programmes, Freshfields mentors like Freshfields Trainee Aaron Kotecha found it to be ‘a two-way street’ and very rewarding: ‘On a personal level, it’s great to sit down with someone who may come from a completely different walk of life to my own – someone who just has so much drive, ambition and willingness to learn.’
APP mentors also help beyond the confines of the programme, as Taesia, an Aspiring Professionals student, says: ‘I’m really grateful to have the opportunity to have a Freshfields mentor. She really was a great help in applying for different things like university, as well as helping me prepare for interviews.’
Bobby, a 2022 intern, says: ‘In the future I see myself working here, hopefully! I see myself in commercial law, probably because of this experience, but especially at Freshfields. It’s amazing here.’
Sally Marchant, Freshfields Community Impact Executive and APP’s Law Work Shadowing Coordinator, hopes APP could also be an alternative route into Freshfields. ‘There are definitely students that I could see being not just trainees but partners here.’
Stephen Lawrence Scholarship Scheme
The Freshfields Stephen Lawrence Scholarship Scheme aims to address the disproportionate under-representation in large commercial law firms and other City institutions of Black men from less socially mobile backgrounds.
The Scheme has awarded 110 Scholarships over the past ten years, with the 2023 cohort about to be selected. So far 23 scholars have gained training contracts at Freshfields, although the impact of the Stephen Lawrence Scholarships go beyond Freshfields. Through working with others including the Bank of England, Aon, Chevron, EBRD, JPMorgan and AstraZeneca, scholars are provided with perspectives into a number of aspirational careers in leading organisations.
‘I’m now a future trainee at Freshfields and I think by virtue of the scholarship I picked up so many things,’ says Michael Byarugaba, a recent scholar. ‘I learnt how to interview well, I learnt what it really meant to be a lawyer and I think now being in a position where I’m going to train at Freshfields and be a solicitor is probably a life-changing thing.’
‘The credit is all the scholars’,’ says Freshfields Partner Annette Byron, a founder of the scheme and sponsor for social mobility activities at the firm. ‘They are getting the roles they want and, in doing so, are creating role models for the generations coming behind. Scholars are getting training contracts here at Freshfields, but they are also joining investment banks, insurers and other law firms. A high proportion go on to do a Master’s degree.’
But it’s not only scholars who benefit from the scheme. Even candidates who are ultimately not selected for a scholarship find the process beneficial, with CV workshops, virtual work experience, coaching and feedback. Scholars and candidates alike highlight the strong relationships they build, both with Freshfields people and with each other.
‘I've learned the value of networking and how important it is,’ says Theo Duah, another recent scholar. ‘An example is when I applied for a grad scheme, which previously I’d had work experience with. One of the employees I stayed in touch with gave me some very useful tips and, luckily, I was able to get an offer.’
Reflecting on the 10th anniversary of the scheme, Annette offers another compelling example: ‘Colin Colas, one of our 2013 candidates, who was not a scholar, is a senior policy advisor in the UK National Security Secretariat - the unit responsible for advising the Prime Minister and National Security Council on national security and foreign policy,’ she says. ‘He’s a great example of how relationships built through the scheme can function like the networks people from more privileged backgrounds can take for granted. While he was in Shanghai we put him in touch with Freshfields Partner Ninette Dodoo who advised Colin on how to make the most of an international-facing career, after which Colin went on to take up an exciting diplomatic role at the British Embassy in Bangkok. Alumni also want to “pay it forward” and we are finding that the friendships they forge on the programme are beneficial for years afterwards.’
Freshfields also benefits from the programme, Annette explains: ‘With more than 400 colleagues at Freshfields alone committing time to the scheme last year, it continues to contribute to organisational cultural change, making us consider how we think about difference of all kinds.'
Our Frankfurt and Munich offices are participants in the Deutschlandstipendium, which, like Vision Scholars, also provides financial and non-material support to high-achieving and committed students from all over the world.
The initiative is modelled on the principle of public-private partnerships, with Freshfields sponsoring talented and high-performing law students at state and state-recognised universities in Germany with financial support, which is matched by the German Federal Government.
But Deutschlandstipendium provides more than money: Freshfields also supports Deutschlandstipendium holders through networking events, internships and mentoring. We work with Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main law department to connect with diverse students in their second or third year who are keen to become lawyers, focusing on ethnic and social mobility.
Freshfields Partner Martin Mekat coordinates the firm’s involvement in the Deutschlandstipendium and says the difference in students is clear. ‘Students get to know their mentors well, going to lunch with them, as well as getting commercial and operational insights. In the year they are with us we can see them become more confident; the prospect of working in an institution like Freshfields becomes more concrete and tangible.’
A substantial proportion of Deutschlandstipendium students join Freshfields for internships after the programme and in due course we anticipate some will join the firm as lawyers.
Again, the programme is also helping to change Freshfields' culture. ‘Deutschlandstipendium gives a whole other layer of purpose to our work, ensuring we as a firm and our society as a whole is becoming more inclusive,’ says Martin. ‘Of course, we have never had closed doors to people of diverse backgrounds, but actively searching for diverse talent to join us brings engagement to a new level.’
The Bridges Network
The Bridges Network was set up in 2021 in Amsterdam by lawyers in peer firms to help ethnically diverse students access careers in corporate law.
‘We saw that many diverse students don’t have access to information to know what is required to get into corporate law, what to look for in a firm and that they perceive the thresholds to come into contact with big law firms as very high,’ says Freshfields Partner Bob van Kasteren.
Bridges Network is a relatively informal initiative, matching curious students with corporate lawyers, who can answer their questions and offer advice, often in a call or over a coffee.
The Bridges Network also gives presentations and has organised events, including a job interview workshop with 30 lawyers and 70 students, and a panel discussion. Freshfields Partner Saloua Ouchan was one of the three lawyers on the panel and has provided support to several students through the Network.
‘We’re giving support so these students feel that a career in corporate law is possible and offering them practical tips on how to achieve it,’ says Saloua. ‘What strikes me most is that people are asking me if “Big Law” is somewhere people from ethnically diverse backgrounds can feel comfortable. The main question I hear is “how did you get there?” There is so much to achieve just by listening, sharing personal experiences and opening up our network!’
Access to law was also the aim when Paris colleagues hosted an exhibition event for social mobility organisation Article 1, which helps young people from less privileged backgrounds in their efforts to achieve professional success.
Our Paris office has been a partner of Article 1 since September 2020 and collaborates on their mentoring programme, as well as providing sponsorship throughout the year. Over the last two years, 10 Paris colleagues have each mentored a student through their university years, providing advice, guidance and helping them make informed choices about their studies.
The exhibition featured 15 success stories of young people who have been mentored and who have become involved with the association. Paris Office Managing Partner Vincent Daniel-Mayeur, who opened the exhibition, said: ‘This exhibition was the opportunity to celebrate our partnership and reiterate our commitment to diversity and inclusion. We encourage more colleagues to volunteer as mentors.’