Why Jessica Pearson is more than just a Suits Character to me
A black woman. At the very top of the most powerful law firm in Manhattan.
Cough, @Suits feel free to sponsor me.
In the midst of the glitz and glamour(ised) world of corporate law, New York’s best closer Harvey Specter hires a talented college drop out — and the eventual Robin-to-his-Batman protégé, Mike Ross. Desperate to keep their fraudulent secret, the drama revolves around the pair conquering Manhattan’s legal sphere, while attempting to not get caught in the process.
Come on, that must have sold you on watching the show. It’s a great Netflix binge — Rotten Tomatoes gave it 90%.
Despite the bromance stealing the majority of the viewer’s hearts, it is Ms. Pearson who intrigues me the most. I picture her, back in the good ol’ Pearson Hardman days; almost regal, powerfully sitting in the throne of her corner office and dressed to perfection in an Armani suit. Stern yet elegant, she scolds the mighty Harvey Specter and tells him that he better win whatever ‘Goddamn’ case he’s got his claws in that week.
Yes, this article is about Jessica Pearson, but it isn’t really about Jessica Pearson.
It’s about what she represents; an Ivy-league educated, managing partner of a fictional top tier New York law firm — who just happens to be a black woman.
Fictional, that is.
You see, I emphasise this, because, in the UK, larger city law firms have a lack of racial diversity within the profession. According to the SRA, there has been no change since 2017, it begs the question, are we looking at aggregate stagnation?
The Power of Representation: Through the lens of a Black British, female, aspiring solicitor.
Lookup a ‘big law’ law firm’s website. They display an array of different people from all walks of life. Dig a little deeper, and you might find that in the last four years, not a single BAME person was promoted to a Partner level.
I get excited when I see a black person in a top-tier law firm — or any corporate firm for that matter. Why? It’s because, unfortunately, I’ve become well-accustomed to not seeing familiar faces. Don’t get me wrong, it has got a lot better over the years and law firms actively work with initiatives that are dedicated to increasing diversity. Yet, you eventually get used to people telling you that that type of lawyer is unachievable for someone like you. So, for some, that black woman might be another friendly face of a colleague in the office, but to me, it’s a potential future version of myself.
It’s the same excitement I felt when I first found out that Michelle Obama was a lawyer, and years later when I read her book, I found out that she worked at Sidley Austin. It’s the same excitement I feel when I click on LinkedIn profiles and find trainee solicitors or associates who are of a similar background to mine.
I’ve recently joined Black Women in Law, an organisation started by Barrister Alexandra Wilson. I was astounded by the excellence of our committee in our first leadership meeting. I had no idea that there were so many brilliant and distinguished legal professionals from our community. I remember smiling, by the end of the meeting, just knowing that if they had done it before me (and I might add successfully) — then I could too.
Jessica Pearson is an extension of my optimism. It’s a simple reminder to keep going. It’s a sign that I do matter.
Jessica Pearson: So far, she’s the exception, rather than the rule.
Despite, black lawyers making up only 3% of lawyers in all law firms in the UK, which superficially correlates with the percentage of black people in the UK workforce, in reality, this figure is less. According to a survey conducted by Law.com International, only 1% of lawyers are black at the top firms, and“several others refuse to offer any data” and even fewer are partners are in very large firms.
So. Why is diversity an issue?
Firstly, societal ideals are not being practiced. Having a more diverse and inclusive workplace environment contributes to rich workplace culture and increased employee satisfaction.
Secondly, law firms operate as a business. With a diverse and wider talent pool, law firms can draw on a range of abilities and increase innovation. Those different perspectives provide a broader arsenal to solve the client’s problems effectively.
Thirdly, law firms have to respond to the needs of clients in a diverse space. Post the tragic killing of George Floyd by a police officer, clients are increasingly questioning about access to opportunities, what is the public response to the Black Lives Matter movement. Diverse clients need diverse law firms for client compatibility.
Post-#BlackLivesMatter: where do we go from here?
It’s difficult to measure how much to do, how effective this is, and what to target. However, firms are increasingly collaborating with organisations such as Rare, SEO London, and Aspiring Solicitors (who are dedicated to increasing diversity in these sectors). Industry bodies can implement diversity policies and inclusion procedures as well as fostering focus development plans for BAME talent.
As an individual, we have to place ourselves in the best position we can possibly be in. Whether that be taking ownership of our career or facing imposter syndrome. I’ve touched on this in a previous article here if you’re interested.
Hopefully, we’ll see some more Jessica’s in the future.
A big shoutout to the Shearman & Sterling’s Blaque In the City. Many of the topics and stats touched on in this piece were inspired by the webinar. Thank you for providing a safe space to ask questions and learn for black applicants.
I’ve collaborated with @TayTalks, she’s also wrote an amazing article on representation — something we’re both passionate about. Click here to have a read. Her other pieces are great too, click here to see her work.
That’s all for tonight, folks. I’ve got two articles about LinkedIn coming soon, keep an eye out for those.