Alexandra Wilson is a barrister, author, and founder of Black Women in Law, an organisation with the aim to unite and address the grievances of black women across the industry. Alexandra specialises in family and criminal law and has been highly vocal about the discrimination and judgement black lawyers face in the courtroom and the office. Her first book, In Black and White published earlier this year, reveals the uncomfortable realities of racism in the judicial system. She was also recently announced Outstanding Woman of the Year by the annual Precious Awards, which celebrates achievements of women of colour.
When did you first realise that the judicial system desperately needed to change? How did you start to mobilise that change?
I didn’t appreciate how underrepresented black people were in the judiciary system (and at the Bar) until I began doing work experience as a student. I knew black people were 2 overrepresented as defendants because I’d read the Lammy Review of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) representation in the Criminal Justice System, and I decided to work to change this dynamic. I started to mobilise change by studying to be a barrister – I thought the best way to actually see change would be from the inside!
You have already accomplished a number of feats to expose racism in the industry, but it looks like this is only just the start. What are some of the things you have in store to carry the momentum of this cause?
This really is only just the beginning. I’m hoping to encourage more people to join the legal profession but I also want to work with others to ensure we retain these underrepresented groups so we can ultimately see better representation at the senior end of the profession.
I am co-founder of an organisation called One Case At A Time along with three other lawyers. We are hoping to address some of the racial disparities across the justice system by supporting disenfranchised minorities, particularly black people.
When you began your studies in law, did you have any idea of the challenges you would be facing? What would your advice be to up and coming law students of colour?
I was aware I would be going into an environment where there were relatively few people who look like me or who come from a similar background to me. Having a mentor really helped and I would advise students who are in the same situation to try and find a mentor in the profession.
Is your new book, In Black and White, purely based on your own personal experiences as a woman of colour in law? Did others inspire you to be a driver of change through your writing?
My book is about my experiences but I weave in a lot of studies and research, which unfortunately shows evidence of widespread bias throughout the justice system.
I hope I have inspired others to seek change, I think my book has helped to further conversations about race in our profession and in the criminal justice system in particular.
Many people, when facing adversity in the workplace, can easily feel powerless against those of higher authority. What would you say to these people about how they can call out racist behaviour and reclaim their own power as an employee?
It is very difficult but it takes people to make those brave steps to prevent others also going through it. I think it can help to write down what you want to say first, you might want to email it before you have a meeting just so you know you haven’t missed anything.
Do you think women of colour are discouraged from pursuing a career in the legal industry? How can we encourage more young women of colour to realise their potential?
We are discouraged by many systems and hierarchies but we also sometimes discourage ourselves, thinking this profession is not for people ‘like us’. It’s important for young people to see role models and that’s why I try to be visible in my work. We need to inspire the next generation.