Herbert Smith Freehills tackling inequality for refugees


Addressing inequality is one of the pillars of the Herbert Smith Freehills’ pro bono and citizenship programme.

We aim to address inequality in a number of ways which include providing access to justice through our pro bono services and facilitating work experience programmes designed to widen access to the legal profession. In recent years, one of the many areas of focus has been the integration of refugees in the UK.

There are a number of different barriers they face in seeking work and we could not ignore the fact that 34% of refugees are unemployed compared to a nationwide unemployment rate of 4%. With employment being the most significant element in the successful integration of refugees, we were keen to be a part of the solution to this issue and consequently, we’ve been working in partnership with Breaking Barriers since 2017.

Our partnership enables refugees in London to acquire the knowledge, confidence and experience they need to secure stable and fulfilling jobs so they can better integrate into the UK and live fulfilling lives.

Breaking Barriers is a charity with a unique approach to helping refugees in London find meaningful employment and thus rebuild their lives. They believe that every refugee in London can fulfil their potential and integrate into their new home through employment that matches their skills, experience, and aspirations.

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Herbert Smith Freehills LLP have actively worked on tackling inequality in business

The charity offers bespoke, intensive and flexible employment support to assist individual integration journeys. We partner with them to provide work experience placements and deliver skills-based workshops for refugees to gain vital work experience and develop the skills they need to secure long-term employment.

With the support of over 20 volunteers, we recently hosted a workshop for some Breaking Barriers candidates interested in a legal career.

The workshop included talks about the English Legal system and two lawyers who had qualified in a different jurisdiction talked through their experience of the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme.

Our Graduate Recruitment team then went on to explain the training contract application process. One of the attendees described the workshop as “invaluable” and we’re hopeful that the workshop will help them to kick off their legal careers in the UK in the near future.

We’ve also had two of the Breaking Barriers candidates spend time in our pro-bono and citizenship team to learn more about this area of work and improve their own soft skills.

Their time with us has nurtured their talent and given them the opportunity to build the confidence they need to rebuild their lives in the UK.

The candidates have described their six month placements as “exciting”, “insightful” and “a step in the right direction”. It’s been rewarding  to  play a role in their development – especially because one of them has now gone on to secure a stable and fulfilling employment.

The resources Breaking Barriers provide for their candidates and business partners are incredibly important. We’ve supported the charity with the development and production of their resources.  We are pleased we can play a role in supporting the candidates we don’t get to have direct contact with as well as the other businesses who work with Breaking Barriers.

Matthew Powell, the CEO Breaking Barriers, said: “We are delighted to work with Herbert Smith Freehills as we work together to support refugees and people from refugee backgrounds in London gain meaningful employment.

“Herbert Smith Freehills have delivered a bespoke legal sector workshop and provided two work placements.

“We look forward to growing the partnership with the firm over the coming years and are excited by the impact we will have on the lives of refugees in the UK.”

When the refugee crisis first hit the world’s press, we wanted to respond, but we were determined to respond in the right way.

Breaking Barriers has helped us do so by enabling us to provide an environment for refugees who have arrived in the UK to navigate the labour market and secure employment. It has been incredibly rewarding programme for us and we look forward to continuing to build our partnership with Breaking Barriers through mentoring, support with resource development and production, placements and pro-bono services.