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Illustration taken from HSF's mag.

One year on from the murder of George Floyd, black lawyers at Herbert Smith Freehills have described the impact of his death and the subsequent protests on their experiences of working in law.

The accounts were published this month in Onwards and Upwards, a magazine produced by Herbie's BAME committee.

Tanisha Onyenaoha, an associate in HSF's Technology, Media, Telecommunications and Data team, learned of Floyd's death as she was celebrating a successful qualification interview with two friends who “knocked on my window with a little bottle of Prosecco to say a socially distanced well done”.

"I had been a few metres outside of my house for all but ten minutes before the post-milestone buzz had disappeared, and there was a sudden, and visceral, shift in realities", said Onyenaoha.

"Or rather, there was an acknowledgement that these two realities existed at once: security and relief juxtaposed against sadness and shock".

Qualifying as a solicitor at Herbies as the BLM protests took place "was personal success co-existing with distant and communal grief", the NQ said.

Others described the tensions that could arise at work. Esther Adeyinka, a solicitor in HSF's Sydney Disputes practice, described how her awareness “that the world we live in was constructed in a manner which often works against us" extended to the office environment.

"Ask any Bla(c)k person who has found themselves to be the only one in a room, or in an organisation” she said.

”Do you know what it feels like to constantly shrink yourself in order to be more relatable? To change the cadence of your voice so that you don’t come across a certain way? To always try and make a good first impression, not because it’s just the right thing to do, but because others’ first impression of you will inform how they relate to other Black people?" 

"It’s weighty", said Adeyinka. "We’re fighting an uphill battle and the weight of it all feels heavy. I can’t be expected to carry the plight of my people forever." 

Other HSF lawyers detected positive change. Kelechi E. Okengwu, an associate in the firm's New York office, was convinced that her sense of community was "forever changed" following Floyd's death, but said she was also "convinced that the killing allowed people to reflect and start conversations on the path of transformative and conscious healing".

"Standing in a sea of people at the Black Lives Matter protests, amongst the feelings of fear and anger, there was also an overwhelming feeling of hope", agreed Jhané Gibson, a member of the London office's business services team. "People were singing, chanting and speaking with strangers, swapping contact details and making plans for the future. Music played and despite the pain, people danced".

Explaining the motivation for the magazine, Alison Brown, executive partner at Herbert Smith Freehills, said, "Making the time and effort to understand each other's lived experiences is an important part of our commitment to building a more inclusive culture in which everyone can thrive".

Tip Off ROF


Bart 22 October 21 09:45

At the risk of ‘all lives mattering’, don’t we all make changes to our tone etc when we are junior, talking to seniors? 
Having said that, any firm still looking askance at provincial accents, or Afros, etc, can take a hike.

Sigh 22 October 21 10:08

A good friend of mine is Kenyan. We are both third seat trainees in the same firm. He is very popular, handsome, tall, sporty, a big hit with the ladies, smart and funny. His parents are from a wealthy industrial family and they have a big house in London and a chalet in a Swiss Ski resort. He went to arguably one of the best boarding schools in UK and then a top university, drives an Aston Martin. Through it all, he is very likeable! 

I am unfortunately very little of the above. Perhaps smart, but from an inner city comp in Liverpool. Never met my dad and my mum worked two jobs. Went to a university where I was very happy but it is not in the Times Top list. I had to work more than part time to get myself though uni and have huge debts. 

Everyone in my firm falls over themselves to check he is okay. Especially HR. 

It is an open secret that the firm will not be keeping on all its trainees. We have been told that all other things being equal, BAME trainees will be given priority for qualification spots, due to the extra challenges they have to face etc. 

I am not at all right wing, not even conservative. But can you understand why I feel marginalised?

Anonymous 22 October 21 10:31

"I can’t be expected to carry the plight of my people forever."

Are you for real?


Where do people keep finding these earnest teenagers to say this kind of gibberish on demand?

We're genuinely doing them a disservice by letting them labour under these kind of deluded and outsized persecution complexes. Nodding along to this kind of silliness isn't 'brave' or 'allyship', it's just enabling a victimhood mindset that holds people back far more effectively than any lingering traces of racism that might persist in the (liberal voting, ethnic majority, global metropolis) City of London.

Anonymous 22 October 21 10:36

Ah, marvellous, this is just what I was looking for. A glossy magazine that finally tells me how the death of a previously unheard of man on another continent, affected the lives of a small selection of some of the UK's highest earning professionals, none of whom had ever met him or had any nexus with the circumstances of his death, and all of whom live lives of monied privilege almost unimaginable to anyone in the bottom 50% of UK earners irrespective of their skin colour.

I'm just surprised that it wasn't published earlier - I mean, who hadn't been clamouring for this?

Anonymous 22 October 21 10:37


Life's not fair. Deal with it. 

Winners go home and bang the prom queen. Losers whine about it.

Anon 22 October 21 11:01

In a single recent weekend in a single US city, Chicago, 12 men (all black) were murdered as part of gang violence. In some cases, the victims were completely innocent bystanders, including a toddler. Why are there no candlelit vigils for these victims? Why no brochures? Why no protests? Why no “look at me, look at me, we are so virtuous!’ Do black lives only matter if they are taken by a white man? 

Sean Connery's Happy Ghost 22 October 21 11:02

"Winners go home..." - this is not a place I expected to see a quote from The Rock, but of course I approve.

“I love pressure. I eat it for breakfast.”

Anonymous 22 October 21 11:33

@Anon - yes, that's absolutely right.

Perhaps you weren't aware, but 'BLM' is actually an abbreviation.


Specifically, it stands for: Black Lives Matter Where They End In Circumstances That Reinforce Our Pre-existing Ideas About Race Relations.

So don't call us hypocrites when we don't hold weeks of public mourning and soul-searching over the tragic deaths of innocent black men, women and children when they die in violent incidents that don't easily fit into a narrative of oppression, because we're totally not.

Sev 22 October 21 11:41

BLM is an abbreviation guy - I think you're reaching.

Murder by cop IS worthy of great scrutiny and attention, because they are meant to 'protect and defend'. It's why murders by cops usually DO get more attention. Floyd's murder was a catalyst for BLM to go big, like Sarah Everard's was with regards to the safety of women in our society.

By all means critique the left where they're guilty of hypocrisy and selective attention, but getting worked up about people getting worked up by Floyd's murder doesn't quite fit that.

ComeAtMeBro 22 October 21 11:59


Two words: Tony Timpa.

I wonder what immutable characteristic difference prevented this tragedy being "worthy of great scrutiny and attention". 

Anonymous 22 October 21 12:02

@Sev - yes, thank you, that's possibly a better name for our organisation going forwards, we can keep the abbreviation but be: Black Lives Matter In The Event That They End As A Result Of Actions By A White Policeman Or A White Person Who Seems Like A Racist To Us.

Then there will be no confusion at all when we fail to react to multiple black homicides in a weekend as if their lives were as irrelevant and inconsequential to us as we accuse others of considering our own in relation to theirs.


It's so simple that I'm surprised more people don't get it.

Honest opinion 22 October 21 12:41

I'm a black City solicitor.  A few years ago I went to an event where there were a lot of black trainees from Herbies.  We discussed various issues, including imposter syndrome etc.  I think there are some challenges black solicitors face once in the job, so I don't want to belittle that.  However in terms of access, I can understand how many others are unhappy with such articles and the victim mentality.  All but one of the black trainees I met from Herbies went to private school (I checked their Linkedins when I connected).  They all benefitted from £250k educations and ended up at Oxford, Cambridge, Durham, Warwick, KCL and other great universities. They haven't had to face any of the challenges that poor black and white and Asian students have had to face, including me.  It feels like my struggles growing up in a tough area are being exploited by the black elite to further their careers, and it is not a great feeling.  And there are many who had it much tougher than me.  I also have a mate, who like one of the posters, is white and came from a humble background. He is now doing well, but the assumption is that because he is a white man he has had an easier life.  And I have seen him have to do without. He travelled an hour and a half into the City from the shires during his TC to save money for a place. Had to make it work.  I just think firms should be careful how they handle these things.  

Also me 22 October 21 13:54

I am also an ethnic minority. I am not a victim and I do not want to be patronised by virtue seeking city firms. Just because of my color, do not assume that I must be poor or under privileged or from a broken family. Of course there is some discrimination in the world, but it is not just white on black . The most viscous racism and tribalism I ever witnessed was in my fathers home , where literally if you are from the wrong tribe you just cannot enter some towns safely . 

D&I Manager 22 October 21 13:57

Your views are unacceptably diverse.

We are here to pay lip service to inclusivity, not tackle the issues in a deep and nuanced way that recognises factors such as class.

Please report to my office immediately.

Anon 22 October 21 13:57

Whilst I will openly admit I have never watched the video of the incident that lead to George Floyds death, largely due to not wanting to give the scum bag officer the air time, but my understanding is that at no point were there any racial connotations or derogatory remarks used by the officer found guilty of the act, in fact was there not also a mixed race or Asian officer in close proximity to the offender?

If this is the case, I have always wondered why anyone would come to the conclusion it was racially motivated and anything more than an utter parasite of man abusing his power as someone tasked with upholding the law and protecting the public?

Happy to stand corrected if this isn't the case of course.......

Anonymous 22 October 21 14:05

> Winners go home and bang the prom queen. Losers whine about it.

That was the past. Now they also become enormously rich, famous, have a successful career, a great family, and 30 years down the road are me too'd and live out the last years of their lives in jail.

Meanwhile losers still get nothing. Or as they put it in the past: nice guys finish last.

Lydia 22 October 21 15:19

If you come from areas of the UK much more deprived than London such as the NE where I am from and where in many areas it is 100% white (Northumberland is 98% white)  and the opportunities are so much less than for black teenagers in London and then see the jobs people (BAME people ie most of the pupils) get who went to my sons' minority white private school you can see how complex an issue this is.

If we just return to first principles and treat everyone well and with fairness things tend to go well. Emphasising differences all the time however can set race relations back a generation.

Anon 22 October 21 16:01

There are some jobs I cannot even apply for as I am the wrong skin colour. Such as the BBC, where whole categories of jobs are closed off to me, openly, because they say only BAME can apply. So a wealthy person who happens to be a different colour to me gets priority, even if I wold be better at the job and even if he has many other advantages over me (class, education, family, wealth etc). 

Will Herbies make a brochure for me too? 

HQ 22 October 21 16:53

A cursory Google search shows that the Sydney and London associates quoted here both went to very exclusive all girls private schools. The New York associate attended a private university. But who knows, perhaps they were all on scholarships for students from challenging backgrounds......?

Anon 23 October 21 22:40


What you have got is white privilege. That’s what my magic circle firm have told me in various diversity sessions I have attended. It’s not a phrase I like but it was made categorically clear. The firm have a target of 25% to meet by 2025 so if you’re from the BAME community you’ve got a very good chance of being employed. If you’re male, white, middle class and middle aged don’t bother. 

Anon 24 October 21 14:02

I worked at Herbies and the Partner often confused me for the other “similar looking” associate in the team… long way to go.



Onanymous 25 October 21 08:54

"Winners go home and bang the prom queen. Losers whine about it."

This is 2021. Whining is winning.

Dodge 25 October 21 10:47

My family came to UK from Kigali in Rwanda after the genocide (before I was born). We are living in East London. UK has been very welcoming to us, gave my family a new start and most people are friendly and fair and decent. There are the some bigots of course, like in every country, but they are the exception. I am always surprised about the way the UK beats itself up over race issues when it is so diverse and tolerant and a place I am very happy we found ourselves here. What the other poster says about racism in other places is true. In Rwanda, the worse type of racism saw 800,000 people massacred in recent history .

anon 25 October 21 11:09

I agree with many of the comments that class and privilege are significant barriers to entry to the profession. They are also disadvantageous when in the profession, as the almost exclusively middle class mores of law firms is hard to understand/adapt to.

While rich, privately educated black ppl have many advantages the one unifying thing they don't have is a cloak against racism. This is the point - no matter their wealth and privilege they are still black and still subject to racial discrimination. This unifies George Floyd with the Old Etonian - for some they are just black men/women and therefore inferior, or at the very least different. 

I really fear that many of the commentators pointing very reasonably to issues of class/wealth are doing so to undermine the real, justifiable issues of racism in law. 

Terrence Woo 25 October 21 14:00

Just came here to say that "I can’t be expected to carry the plight of my people forever" is a plagiarised quote from fairytale novel 'Children of Virtue and Vengence" by Tomi Amari. 

AbsurdinessBrown 26 October 21 12:13

Couldn't finish reading it.  Unmitigated nonsense.

So much for facts.  Lawyers used to care about them...


Pathetic 11 November 21 19:53

Pathetic comments on here.  

How many Senior Partners are black?  

Is anybody saying socio-economic bias is less important than racial bias?  No.  So stop straw man arguments. 

As a Senior in the profession I am embarrassed by many of the views expressed above and we know what sentiment is thinly veiled by the same.  Leave the profession - you will not like what it will be in generations to come. 

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