Diversity in the profession

Why this risk matters

  • Equality, diversity and inclusion in the legal profession is important for many reasons, including:
    • maintaining high standards by allowing the most talented people to become solicitors and progress in their careers
    • supporting the rule of law and the effective administration of justice, as a diversity of views and approaches, whether in law firms or in the judiciary, supports an independent justice system
    • improving access to services as some people may be more likely to seek legal help from solicitors they share some social or cultural characteristics with.
  • The legal profession is changing and starting to reflect the diversity of wider society. However, more needs to be done to improve the representation of all groups, particularly in senior roles.

Trends

  • Our law firm diversity tool shows that entry into the profession is diverse but women, black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) and disabled lawyers continue to be under-represented at partner level, particularly in large firms.
  • BAME and disabled solicitors are more likely to work in smaller firms.
  • Solicitors that went to state schools, and were the first generation to go to university, are also more likely to work in small firms.
  • Independent analysis of the diversity data we collect found that:
    • the prospects of becoming a partner are higher for white men than any other group across all types of firms
    • women and BAME men are more likely to be a partner in small firms
    • BAME women are particularly disadvantaged in progressing to partner level in the profession.

What firms can do

  • Firms have a responsibility to promote and encourage diversity at all levels. Embedding diversity and inclusion into their culture allows firms to realise the benefits that different people can bring.
  • To improve diversity and inclusion firms can:
    • check their recruitment and HR processes allow the opportunity of employment and progression to the best talent from all groups
    • create a culture where people feel able to talk about diversity and staff feel included and valued
    • offer mentoring schemes to widen access to the profession. Initiatives that could help firms include:
    • offer mentoring schemes for career development where senior partners or managers support people from diverse backgrounds
    • use our law firm diversity tool to benchmark their diversity and encourage all staff to respond to all questions
    • carry out pay audits to identify any pay gaps between different groups of people
    • consider unconscious biases and help staff overcome these to make objective decisions about recruitment and selection
    • offer flexible working, such as home working to help the work-life balance of all staff, particularly those with caring responsibilities
    • make sure senior managers lead by example, such as challenging any offensive behaviour in the workplace
    • support different routes to the profession, including apprentices, paralegals and legal executives, so talented people from all backgrounds can access the profession
    • consider the wellbeing of staff and help staff manage their stress levels.
  • It is best for firms to take more than one approach to improving diversity and monitor the success of their initiatives.
  • Solicitors can get involved with networks that run business and social events, and offer career support and networking, such as:

What are we doing

  • Our report, The business case for diversity, and our diversity resources have more practical examples about how to promote a diverse and inclusive workplace.
  • We continue to work with firms and other organisations to encourage a diverse and inclusive profession. For example, we held an event for Black History Month in October where panel members highlighted the benefits of mentoring to improve BAME diversity.
  • We have engaged with firms, academics and others about developing the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) and innovative routes into the profession while maintaining standards. An independent review of the SQE proposals found that it should open up opportunities to access the profession, increase the potential for social mobility and support diversity.
  • We promote good practice in equality and diversity in our own work, which is detailed in our fourth annual Workforce progress report. For example, we have Disability Confident accreditation and we are a Stonewall Diversity Champion. We also have a range of staff networks around diversity, wellbeing and inclusion. These help our staff, work with relevant external groups and support our involvement with professional and community events, such as Pride and the UK Diversity Legal Awards .
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