Concerns that facial recognition technology will be used as a tool for widespread racial profiling have finally been heard – and prominent firms such as IBM, Amazon and Microsoft have committed to withdraw their products. Venture capital outfits Andreessen Horowitz and Softbank have pledged to do more to support black entrepreneurs. And a number of tech firms have used their platforms to listen thoughtfully to black voices.
These initiatives may not ultimately deliver real or meaningful change, but there are grounds for optimism.
In the legal sector, the principal issue is not overt racism, but structural barriers that we’ve been too slow to dismantle. It’s these barriers that dissuade aspiring black lawyers from entering the profession, and hold back those that do.
One of the reasons I started Robin AI was to try to help restore the faith and trust people once had in our lawyers and legal services. Where once lawyers were considered honest and trustworthy, they are now often perceived as deceitful and avaricious.
Part of the reason for our declining image in the eyes of the public is the industry’s chronic lack of diversity. When I reflect on my own journey into law, I see three major barriers holding the profession back from finding and nurturing more talented black lawyers.
First, employers insist that aspiring lawyers must have law firm work experience before they’ll be considered for the most prestigious jobs. But the truth that every lawyer knows is that a huge proportion of legal internships aren’t advertised, and instead are awarded to the children of partners, barristers and clients behind closed doors.
Because the decision makers in the legal industry are mostly drawn from wealthy families and elite schools – whose members are overwhelmingly white – we know that black students are the least likely to get legal work experience, so they fall at the very first hurdle. If we want a diverse profession, we have to end these conditions and start judging applicants on their promise and talent.