What are you doing to promote diversity?

In 2020 the ILBF celebrates its 15th anniversary. This is a significant milestone for a small legal charity with a big impact. The ILBF owes much of its success to its focus on D&I and shows the importance of D&I for even the smallest organisations. A diverse leadership team means decision making is more effective; beneficiaries from across the globe bring vital insights and perspective; a wide range of partners offer new skills and expertise; and diverse volunteers enhance the impact of its work. The ILBF’s CEO, Katrina Crossley, explains what D&I means to the ILBF and why it is such a positive force for all concerned.

The ILBF is a small London-based charity with a big impact: our mission is to support the rule of law and access to justice by sharing that priceless tool of the trade, legal knowledge. Since 2005 we have shipped 60,000 good quality legal textbooks to over 190 organisations in 51 countries, with support from all sectors of the United Kingdom legal community.

Our goal is to ship books to as diverse a range of legal institutions as possible, and in as many locations as we can physically reach. To that end, applications are encouraged from across the world, from the smallest jurisdictions in the middle of the Pacific, to some of the largest in Africa and Asia, and each one is treated on its merits. Consequently, we have shipped books to judiciaries and other government institutions, to law schools, universities, pro bono groups, small legal aid clinics and prison libraries.

Users of the books are judges, law teachers, students, advisors, legislators, human rights campaigners and advocates for positive change. For the development and the longterm security of the rule of law, it is vital that access to legal information is shared across the whole of society. When organisations apply for books, we ask for information about the users of the libraries/legal resources so that we can gain a picture of the user demographic. It is important to us that we signal to organisations the importance of open access to legal information and the promotion of diversity. We also strive to support diversity in other subtler ways, trying to ensure that our marketing reflects the diversity of our recipients for example.

Diversity is not just important in terms of who we support, but also in the way we are run. Our trustee body, which is chaired by Paul Lowenstein QC, is diverse not only in terms of gender (five men, three women), but also in terms of professional perspective and approach. Our trustees and patrons are solicitors, barristers, judges, in-house counsel, and educators. It is very important for us to gather different points of view and insights as part of decision making. As Jane Colston, one of our trustees says: ‘The key to embracing diversity is never to believe you have done all you can. There is always room for self-reflection and improvement. Supporting diversity, in all its dimensions, demands nothing less’.

The wider Operating Committee and fund raisers, such as the runners pictured above, include our student volunteers, our partner law firms, barristers and publishers. The process for recruiting student volunteers aims to break down barriers to access to the profession and over the years we have taken students from a wide variety of backgrounds and nationalities. The student volunteers, just about to start their legal careers, are encouraged to meet with the trustees and patrons who are senior members of the profession and can provide opportunities to the volunteers to shadow them and advise on applications. Working with the ILBF helps to hone skills that will be invaluable in practice.

Finally, the ILBF strives to work with as diverse a range of partners in the UK and internationally as it can. From greater diversity comes greater access to skills, contacts, and ultimately impact. Every one of our shipments will involve at least two or three, and sometimes up to seven, different partners. As a recent example, a shipment to Njala University Law School in Sierra Leone was funded by Anglo American and De Beers ‘Ambassadors for Good’ Programme, with the Group Legal team packing books and assisting in Sierra Leone; books were also collected and packed by the Junior Lawyers Against Poverty Group at Nottingham University; the recipient was identified with the assistance of the UK Sierra Leone Pro Bono Network who also provided invaluable logistics support in Sierra Leone; and the recipient received a grant from the British and Irish Association of Law Librarians to purchase shelving for the books.

This article was first published in the IBA Litigation Committee newsletter in September 2019 and is reproduced by kind permission of the International Bar Association, London, UK. (c) International Bar Association.