SRA progress on equality and diversity 2011

12 July 2012

Introduction

  • 1.

    This is our second annual equality progress report and sets out the progress we have made in meeting our equality objectives for 2011.

  • 2.

    We published our first annual equality report in February 2011. This report set out the progress we had made on our first published equality and diversity strategy.

  • 3.

    Our annual reports are published as part of our commitment to being accountable and transparent.

Priorities for equality in 2011

  • 4.

    In October 2011, we introduced the new SRA Handbook, which signalled the beginning of our transition to outcomes-focused regulation (OFR). We have been embedding equality into the rules, policies and processes which underpin our OFR approach. We have also been working to ensure that equality and diversity is being considered in the organisational transformation we are currently undertaking.

  • 5.

    Of equal priority was to continue progress in relation to areas within our regulatory work requiring action, including the disproportionate regulatory outcomes for BME solicitors that we have been working on for some time. The other key areas which gained impetus during 2011 were our work to improve our engagement with disabled solicitors and with consumers.

  • 6.

    In our new Equality Framework, published in July 2011, we set ourselves nine equality objectives:

    1. Promoting diversity in the workplace
    2. Promoting diversity at board and committee level
    3. Developing our people for new ways of working
    4. Embedding equality in the work we are doing to transform our organisation
    5. Supporting small firms in managing the transition to outcomes-focused regulation and the introduction of alternative business structures (ABS)
    6. Continuing to closely monitor the disproportionate outcomes for BME solicitors and firms and seeking where possible to reduce that disproportionality
    7. Improving how we respond to those in the profession with a disability
    8. Better understanding the needs of consumers and the wider public
    9. Encouraging a diverse profession
  • 7.

    In this report we will look back at some of the key milestones in our journey so far and then review the work that we have done during 2011 to meet each of our equality objectives

Key milestones in our journey so far

  • 8.

    The starting point for much of our work on equality and diversity at the SRA has been the report by Lord Ouseley published in July 2008, focusing on the disproportionate outcomes for BME solicitors across key areas of our regulatory work. This report also looked at the organisation, its culture and workforce, therefore providing a valuable blueprint as to the position of the SRA at the time the review was carried out. Lord Ouseley made a number of recommendations which were incorporated into our first Equality and Diversity strategy published in 2009. The recommendations included organisational issues as well as issues related to our regulatory decision making.

  • 9.

    Lord Ouseley's first review of our progress was published in June 2009. He commended the work we had done within a short period to improve transparency in our decision making, to engage with the profession and to embed the governance and oversight arrangements we had put in place to drive our equality work forward.

  • 10.

    We commissioned Pearn Kandola, a firm of business psychologists specialising in diversity to help us better understand the reasons for the over-representation of BME solicitors in our regulatory outcomes. Their report, published in July 2010, highlighted the factors outside the control of the SRA which were contributing to the disproportionality, in particular the overrepresentation of BME solicitors in cases reported to the SRA. However, it was also clear that in some areas this disproportionality was compounded by the SRA's decision making processes. Pearn Kandola made a number of recommendations in their report, including recommendations that we audit our decision making processes in these areas.

  • 11.

    We included the recommendations made by Pearn Kandola into our equality and diversity action plan for 2011. We have set out more detail about our progress in implementing the Pearn Kandola recommendations in a separate report that was published in December 2011.

The SRA - our role as an employer

  • 12.

    Our first four equality objectives are focused on our organisation and our people and we will consider progress against each one in the following sections.

Promoting diversity in the workplace

  • 13.

    We have improved the staff diversity data available on our website and now publish diversity data twice a year for age, disability, ethnicity, gender, religion and sexual orientation across a wide range of employment activities including recruitment, performance, grievance and disciplinary. We will continue to use this information to analyse trends.

  • 14.

    The diversity of our staff has changed little between 2010 and 2011. Where they are different, the figures for 2010 are shown in brackets. As at the 31 December 2011 we had 586 (591) employees with the following diversity profile:

    • 71% female and 29% male;
    • 2% (4%) of our employees have declared themselves as having a disability;
    • 1% have declared themselves as gay/lesbian;
    • 13% are from BME groups of whom, 1% are from a Black or Black British background, 2% are from a mixed background and 10% are from an Asian or Asian British background.
  • 15.

    We do still have significant underreporting by staff for some equality categories, particularly disability and sexual orientation, as is common in many organisations. We will carry forward a plan to increase staff diversity reporting for 2012 that will involve a range of initiatives including raising awareness among staff as to why it is important to collect the information, how we use it and to provide assurances about confidentiality.

  • 16.

    Last year we identified a number of trends from the data which we sought to address through recruitment targets and other positive action initiatives in our Equality Framework for 2011. We had two main actions in 2011: to increase the applications and appointments for disabled people and to encourage broader diversity in the applications received across different BME groups.

  • 17.

    Our recruitment targets proved to be overly ambitious with the background of change that the organisation was going through last year as can be some from some of the figures for 2011.

    • The number of applications from disabled candidates has remained static in 2010 and 2011, so we have not been able to meet the target of increasing applications by 2%.
    • The number of successful disabled candidates decreased in 2011 which is a concern and further work is planned to ensure disabled candidates are fully supported through the recruitment and selection process, in line with our commitment to the Two Ticks scheme.
    • For promotions generally, we saw an increase from 10% in 2010 to 12% in 2011 for BME staff, but were unable to increase the appointment of BME staff at grades G to L by 2%.
  • 18.

    We made progress with some of the other actions, including our new talent management programme. Although we are still in the selection process, we attracted applications from 30 staff: 18 female and 12 male; 26 white and 4 BME. There were no disabled applicants and 6 applications were received from grades B, D and E (the lowest grade at the SRA is grade A). We are planning to repeat the programme next year and will build in positive action measures including tailored workshops, focus groups, training and mentoring. We are also working on plans for a graduate recruitment scheme.

  • 19.

    We have been working on two benchmarking exercises to see how we measure up against other similar organisations. Last year we applied to the Workplace Equality Index scheme run by Stonewall and although we did not make the top 100 employers, we are working with Stonewall to raise awareness of and implement good practice on lesbian, gay and bisexual issues. This year we will be submitting an application to Race for Opportunity, a programme run by Business in the Community to help us identify where we are compared to other similar organisations on ethnicity in terms of workforce diversity, recruitment, career progression, supplier diversity and procurement.

  • 20.

    We started planning for our own internal benchmarking exercise in 2011 to assess how each part of the business is embedding equality and diversity in their day to day work. We developed an Equality and Diversity Performance Indicator Framework and after piloting the framework in 2011, we have been rolling it out since the beginning of the year. Following an early review of progress we have now made the framework more focused on outcomes and each part of the business is now working on a range of actions to ensure they can demonstrate compliance with at least with our level 1 outcomes by the end of the year.

  • 21.

    We will shortly be publishing Lord Ouseley's second review, which looks at workforce diversity, and the SRA response. We have further work to do in this area to achieve our objectives.

Promoting diversity at board and committee level

  • 22.

    We updated the diversity monitoring data we hold for the SRA Board, its committees and for our panel of adjudicators. The diversity of the SRA Board improved slightly (in relation to gender and ethnicity) after the appointment process in 2011, although the three new Board members did not take up their roles until the beginning of 2012. Of the 17 Board members: 9 (53%) are solicitors and 8 (47%) are lay people; 10 (59%) are male and 7 (41%) are female; 14 (82%) are white, 2 (12%) are BME and 1 (6%) is unknown.

  • 23.

    The Board's work is supported by eight committees and other subgroups, all of which are made up by one or more Board members plus a number of other Committee members. Excluding the Board members, at the beginning of July 2012 there were eight committee members, of whom four (50%) are male and four (50%) are female; six (75%) are white and two (25%) are BME.

  • 24.

    We have a panel of 27 adjudicators: 16 (59%) are legally qualified and 11 (41%) are lay people; 14 are male (52%) and 13 (48%) are female; 14 (52%) are white, four (15%) are BME and nine (33%) are unknown.

Developing our people for new ways of working

  • 25.

    One of the central features of our organisational change programme has been the development of a vision and a set of values to help our staff understand what kind of organisation we wanted to be and what we expected from them as employees. Inclusion, fairness and diversity are at the heart of our Vision and Values which were published at the end of 2011. Our vision is to be 'the leading regulator of legal services, protecting the public, empowering, supporting and developing our people, providing value for money, fair and transparent outcomes and service excellence in everything we do'. Our values are embedded across all aspects of our work and provide the framework for how we will develop as an organisation. To support this we have also published our new SRA Charter Standards to make it clear to people what they can expect when dealing with the SRA.

  • 26.

    To help equip staff for our new way of working we implemented an extensive training programme in 2011, and to supplement this we provided a wide and varied range of specialist equality and diversity training and promoted awareness through diversity events as we had in previous years. This was intended to make sure all our staff had the skills, knowledge and understanding of equality and diversity that they would need to deliver their work within an increasing diverse profession and to support our decision making.

  • 27.

    We introduced a compulsory elearning module on the Equality Act in April 2011, with an additional module for all managers. This has now been included as part of our induction programme for all new starters. In addition, our Inclusion directorate offered a range of in house training sessions, taken up by almost 130 people over the year. Some of these were designed to expand on existing policy and guidance documents already in place for staff:

    • the provision for reasonable adjustments for our ‘customers’ which went through the legal position, our policy and the staff guidance and took a practical approach based on real scenarios encountered within the SRA;
    • handling complaints of discrimination made under our complaints policy to ensure that staff were fully aware of the Equality Act and how to respond to such complaints;
    • carrying out equality impact assessments, which covered the SRA’s equality duties and focused on how to gather and analyse evidence;
    • a review of our obligations as an employer and as a service provider under the Equality Act.
  • 28.

    Workshops for staff on managing inappropriate behaviour were commissioned from Pearn Kandola in 2011 and covered behaviour that staff may experience from colleagues as well as from members of the public and regulated individuals. The workshops were piloted in December 2011 and are being delivered to staff in the first half of 2012, later than planned. There have been very positive reactions from staff to the training which has given people the opportunity to discuss their concerns and develop their skills in dealing with unreasonable behaviour.

  • 29.

    These workshops were introduced to address concerns expressed by staff through our staff survey at the end of 2010 about bullying, harassment and other unreasonable behaviour (from both external and internal sources). Although the staff survey at the end of 2011 showed an increase in reported incidents, it also showed a slight increase (to 76.6%) in the proportion of respondents who felt that the people they worked with treated them with respect. We are planning workshops with staff this year to better understand and address these findings.

  • 30.

    To support staff in managing unreasonable behaviour from members of the public and regulated individuals, we published a new policy on our website, ‘Managing Unreasonable Behaviour towards SRA staff’ in July 2011 as planned. This sets out our expectations and a transparent process for managing with people who are abusive to staff or otherwise behave in an unreasonable manner.

  • 31.

    To support our new organisational structure, our Senior Leadership Group, comprising our Senior Management Team, directors and key senior managers attended a two day leadership development workshop in 2011. This programme was to help the group review progress and learn about how they could work differently to provide the organisation and its employees with clear direction and to instil behaviours that we would need to deliver our Vision and Values. The group also attended the first unconscious bias development session which was delivered by Pearn Kandola, and completed the e-learning module on E&D alongside all employees.

  • 32.

    We held several staff diversity events during 2011, designed to raise awareness of various diversity issues and deliver key messages to staff in a lighter and more informal manner. Our main diversity event of the year was to celebrate International Women’s Day in March, where staff heard from several inspiring women about their work. In addition we invited MIND to speak to staff about mental health awareness which was so popular we arranged a second session and have gone on to plan more training and resources for staff on mental health issues for this year. Black History Month was our main event for 2010, so we simply marked the event this year with an information handout and a quiz in October. Plans for an event for Human Rights Day in December 2011 had to be postponed due to the high level of recruitment and training activity in the business at the time and we hope to mark this in 2012.

  • 33.

    We have had positive feedback about the training and the diversity events available in 2011, so we know that staff found them useful, giving them specific skills in their work, such as handling requests for reasonable adjustments and helping to promote an inclusive culture in the organisation through information opportunities to discuss diversity issues with colleagues, such as the women's day event.

Embedding equality in the work we are doing to transform our organisation

  • 34.

    We have seen huge changes in our structure over 2011, a process which was announced in February 2011 starting with the transformation of the senior structure which has now been streamlined and includes an small executive team (SMT), supported by a leadership Group comprising of directors and senior managers.

  • 35.

    This restructure saw a large number of staff put on notice of redundancy and a recruitment exercise to the new roles created in Authorisation and Supervision. The scale of this work has taken up significant time for both SRA managers and our Human Resources Directorate. We are still working on finalising the equality impact assessment of this restructure so we have been unable to publish this during 2011 as we had hoped.

  • 36.

    At the same time we were planning our move to a single site and in December 2011 the new location at the Cube in Birmingham was announced. We published an equality impact assessment in February 2012, which revealed that about half of the Midlands staff would have shorter journeys to work and about a third of our staff would be facing potentially longer journeys to work. This aspect of the move was likely to impact particularly on those with caring responsibilities and those on lower grades. Measures are in place to support staff in making the transition and the impact assessment will be updated when the move is complete.

  • 37.

    During 2011 we worked on a project to introduce an Inclusion Champion programme. We already have a community of Transformation Champions who have proved enormously helpful in managing the organisational transformation that we have been going through. Inclusion and Transformation Champions are now working together as one transformation community which is another enabler for ensuring inclusion and equality and diversity are at the heart of our transformation.

The SRA - engaging with and regulating the profession

  • 38.

    Our approach to regulation changed in 2011, with the introduction of the SRA Handbook and the beginning of our move to outcomes-focused regulation. This has involved a whole new way of working with the profession and we spent much of the year developing our new approach to Authorisation, Supervision and Enforcement. The Diversity and Inclusion team have worked with staff across the business to support the equality impact assessment work for these new ways of working.

  • 39.

    The work started at the beginning of 2011 with an assessment of the equality impact of the SRA Handbook and has moved on to look at different aspects of our new functions, including our approach to supervision and authorisation, both of which are underpinned by our risk framework.

  • 40.

    We have looked at the equality impact of our approach to supervision, including focused supervision of firms where the impact of any regulatory breach may be high - we are calling this approach 'relationship management'. Other firms will be supervised in line with our risk assessment framework, so they will be contacted when we become aware of information to suggest that contact or a visit would be appropriate. Our approach is designed to be a fair allocation of limited resources in a way that is "proportionate, targeted and effective" and we will be monitoring this new approach as it is implemented and felt across the profession. Our early findings show that "our new approach will have a positive impact on equality within the profession as it will give firms flexibility to meet the outcomes in a way that best suits them. This flexibility is likely to have a positive impact on consumers of legal services, as firms will be able to run their business in a way which best suits their client base".

  • 41.

    One of our key tasks last year was to develop a brand new authorisation process for Alternative Business Structures, and which were given the green light by Parliament at the end of 2011 allowing us to start receiving applications in January 2012. We published our assessment of the potential impact on equality of the introduction of Alternative Business Structures in March 2011. We will be revisiting this through a wider piece of research to look at the impact of ABS on the legal market from the perspective of both firms and consumers and plan to publish our findings at the end of the year.

  • 42.

    We also need to understand the potential equality impact of our approach to assessing risk as our supervisory and authorisation work will be driven by this. The Risk Framework is divided into multiple categories and there are specific risks identified in those categories which will change and fluctuate over time as new risks are identified, or risks become obsolete. The Risk Framework is published and we have developed our approach with equality in mind and will be publishing our equality impact assessment shortly.

  • 43.

    One of the common themes arising from our equality impact assessment work on the Handbook and our new approach to OFR has been the potential impact of our new approach on small firms. In our report on the equality impact of our new Handbook we summarised the position as follows:

    "One of the main concerns expressed about the SRA Handbook is the belief that there may be an adverse impact for smaller firms arising in particular from the Code and the Authorisation Rules. Although we are not fully convinced that this adverse impact will materialise, it would indirectly affect BME firms and female firms which are disproportionately represented in 1 and 2 partner firms. We accept that the concerns are genuinely held and as such we have identified a range of measures that we have taken and are proposing to take to reduce this potential impact.

    We intend to assist all those we regulate with readily accessible and easy to understand information about the introduction of the new Handbook and outcomes-focused regulation. We believe that this will be of particular assistance to smaller firms which might otherwise lack the resources to readily assimilate the new information. We believe that this, and our other package of education and information initiatives, will help address any potential disproportionate impact on smaller firms and, therefore, any resulting disproportionate equalities impact."

  • 44.

    These concerns prompted us to make supporting small firms one of our equality objectives for 2011/12.

Supporting small firms in managing the transition to outcomes-focused regulation and the introduction of alternative business structures (ABS)

  • 45.

    We have sought to provide support for small firms largely through a targeted approach to engagement and close working with practitioner groups. We have regular meetings with BME solicitors through the Equality Implementation Group (chaired by Lord Ouseley), and with women solicitors, disabled solicitors and the Sole Practitioners Group through a variety of practitioner groups.

  • 46.

    We held roadshows across England and Wales during 2011, providing an overview of the new Handbook, explained the new risk framework and how our new approach to authorisation, supervision and enforcement will operate under OFR. We also held fourteen webinars on specific topics of relevance to the profession.

  • 47.

    To supplement these roadshows we held further roadshow style events jointly with practitioner groups:

    • one with the Society of Asian Lawyers in London in July 2011;
    • one with the Association of Women Solicitors in London in July 2011; and
    • two events targeted specifically at small firms and BME solicitors, one in London in December 2011 and one in Birmingham in February 2012 with almost 250 members of the profession attending in total.
  • 48.

    We continue to work closely with the Sole Practitioners Group and BME practitioner groups and we are planning a series of workshops for them on issues of particular relevance to their members.

  • 49.

    We are continuing to monitor how small firms will be affected by the changes in the legal market and how they might be affected by our new regulatory approach. It is too early to tell as the changes have been introduced gradually and it will take time to see the impact in terms of regulatory outcomes.

Encouraging a diverse profession

Diversity Profile of the profession

  • 50.

    The solicitors’ profession is getting more diverse year on year and in our annual diversity monitoring report we have provided detailed data tables broken down by ethnicity, gender, age and disability. This year we have also provided some pyramid tables, setting out a more detailed level of data indicating some of the patterns across gender, age and ethnicity. In addition, the Law Society publishes an annual report on trends in the profession looking at the year to July 2011.

  • 51.

    Below are some of the headline figures for the end of 2011 showing the diversity profile for solicitors with a practising certificate and registered foreign and European lawyers. The 2010 figures are shown in brackets and the percentages are taken from the total population where the equality data is known:

    • 46% (45%) of the profession are female and 54% (55%) are male,
    • 14% (12%) of the profession are from a BME background – of whom 8% (6%) come from an Asian background and 2% (2%) from a Black background
    • 61% (60%) are between 31 and 50 years old
    • 1% of the population have declared a disability in both years

Access to the profession

  • 52.

    We continued with various initiatives in 2011 to promote wider access to the profession in line with our regulatory objective to ‘encourage an independent, strong, diverse and effective profession.’

  • 53.

    Our work based learning pilot continued and there are currently 12 candidates that remain in the pilot with 83 candidates having successfully qualified through this pilot to date. BMG Research was commissioned in December 2011 to evaluate the pilot, which will culminate in a report due to be completed in June 2012. The report will build on the existing University of Middlesex evaluation study, but will include further analysis of the part time cohort at Nottingham Law School, the combined route at Northumbria University and the experiences, outcomes and destinations of the full time cohort from the work based learning pilot.

  • 54.

    The final report shall form the basis of the SRA’s submission to the Legal Education and Training Review on work-based learning and alternative pathways into the profession. We will report further on this next year when the outcome of the review is known but we have been making sure that diversity is a key part of the review and recently set up an expert advisory group on equality, diversity and social mobility, chaired by Professor Gus John.

Promoting compliance with Principle 9

  • 55.

    An important part of encouraging diversity in the profession is to ensure that we are doing all that we can to ensure that firms are complying with Principle 9, which is one of the new Handbook Principles which requires the profession to ‘run your business or carry out your role in the business in a way that encourages equality of opportunity and respect for diversity’.

  • 56.

    We have attended five engagement events for local Law Society groups on Principle 9 organised by the Law Society and we are looking at how we can be more effective in promoting compliance with Principle 9 and the outcomes set out in chapter 2 of the Code which covers equality and diversity.

  • 57.

    In July 2011, we published our last annual review of the complaints received about solicitors not complying with the equality requirements in Rule 6 under the old Code of Conduct. In that report we quoted from our equality impact assessment of the SRA's new Handbook as follows:

    "It has been difficult to promote change across the profession through enforcement of rule 6 but our new outcomes-focused approach to regulation will give us scope to develop new ways of improving equality and diversity. Rather than relying on case-by-case enforcement of rules when we know it is very difficult to prove discrimination, we can be more creative in working with the profession through supervision to promote good practice, although we will still take enforcement action where appropriate."

  • 58.

    We started designing a thematic supervision pilot looking at how firms are complying with Principle 9 and the chapter 2 outcomes last year. We delayed implementation so we could link this to the Legal Services Board's (LSB) transparency exercise. This applies across all legal services within the LSB’s remit and requires all legal firms to collect and report their workforce diversity monitoring data. We will report on this more fully next year but we have worked closely with the LSB in planning our implementation of their proposals for solicitors firms and commissioned a specialist internet survey provider to carry out a data collection exercise on our behalf this year and hope to capture this data as part of our annual reporting process for firms from 2013.

  • 59.

    The supervision pilot will now have dual role, to assess compliance with Principle 9 and the chapter 2 outcomes and also compliance with the diversity data collection exercise. We will be running the pilot this summer and will be using the outcome to help us more effectively supervise firms in this area going forward and help us identify the risks which might alert us to non compliance.

  • 60.

    To help the profession meet the equality and diversity outcomes in chapter 2 we will be publishing frequently asked questions about this area, which will be updated after the supervision pilot if necessary. The timetable has slipped as we are currently reviewing all of the guidance that we give to ensure that our approach is clear and consistent.

Supporting trainees and new entrants to the profession

  • 61.

    There were a number of actions in our plan for 2011 which came from recommendations in the Pearn Kandola report and arose from their findings that there were more cases brought against certain groups of solicitors in the profession. The groups identified were trainees and newly qualified solicitors at the beginning of their careers, solicitors closer to the end of their careers, and some of those who were first qualified outside England and Wales and had entered the profession through the qualified lawyers transfer arrangements. This led Pearn Kandola to make recommendations about the support the SRA was giving to trainees and newly-qualified solicitors, our approach to continuing professional development, and the implementation of the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme. Our progress in meeting these recommendations was provided in the Pearn Kandola progress report that was published in December 2011, but we have provided a brief update for each below.

  • 62.

    We are still reviewing our plans in relation to the monitoring of firms with trainees and have progressed with the research we are undertaking to look at the proper role and functions of an outcomes-focused regulator in relation to continuing professional development (CPD). Through interviews, focus groups and questionnaires with a cross-section of professional practitioners, membership networks and key stakeholders, a team from Nottingham Law School will be reporting on its findings and the final report will feed into the Legal Education and Training Review at the end of 2012.

  • 63.

    We have reviewed the first year of the new Qualified Lawyer Transfer Scheme, looking in particular at the operation of the new assessment requirements and published an update to our equality impact assessment of the scheme. It is difficult to draw firm conclusions from the first year's data, but we have been assured in relation to some of the issues identified in the original equality impact assessment. For example:

    • pass-rates suggest that those who do not have English as a first language are able to perform very well in the assessments;
    • the assessment provider has been able to make arrangements to accommodate candidates wishing to take the scheduled assessments to take account of their religious requirements;
    • the provider has been recording complaints about equality issues although there were only two which concerned the way candidates were asked about their age which were thought to be culturally insensitive;
    • the assessors have been trained, focusing in particular on issues about language, marking of assessments for those candidates who do not have English as a first language;
    • although not called upon to make reasonable adjustments as yet, the provider has a transparent process in place to provide for the needs of disabled candidates.

Continuing to closely monitor the disproportionate outcomes for BME solicitors and firms and seeking where possible to reduce that disproportionality

  • 64.

    A key strand of our equality work during 2011 has been monitoring and understanding what could be causing the disproportionate regulatory outcomes for BME solicitors that has persisted over the past few years.

  • 65.

    The main focus for 2011 was reviewing our approach to decision making to make sure that our decision making criteria and processes were fair and free from bias. This has involved equality impact assessment, auditing key decisions as recommended by Pearn Kandola and training staff in relation to decision making and recognising and avoiding unconscious bias.

Decision making

  • 66.

    As part of our move to OFR we have been reviewing our regulatory decision making and a key part of this programme, was the preparation of our new Decision Making Framework. This explains how we approach regulatory decision making at the SRA and emphasises the importance of making fair decisions in compliance with our equality and human rights obligations. We are part way through a compulsory training programme for all decision makers in the SRA, including all those in roles which have delegated decision making powers, as set out in the SRA’s Schedule of Delegations. All staff were required to undertake a short e-learning package towards the end of last year and decision makers are being offered places on a compulsory one day training course. This includes a half day workshop on managing unconscious bias which we commissioned from Pearn Kandola.

  • 67.

    In 2011, we also commissioned specialist legal training on human rights and public law in the context of regulatory decision making. One session was made available to all staff and two sessions were targeted at our senior managers and key regulatory decision makers across all areas of the business.

  • 68.

    The other main theme of our decision making work was to review our decision making criteria. The new Handbook prompted us to draft new criteria for the new areas covered, such as authorising ABS and to review all existing criteria. This has given us an opportunity to review progress with our commitment to carry out an equality impact assessment of every set of criteria. To make this process manageable, we risk assessed each one and the priority criteria for 2011 were included in our published EIA Schedule. The schedule for 2011 was ambitious and although all of the work is ongoing and much of it is near completion, there have been some slippages. We will be publishing the outstanding equality impact assessments as soon as we can this year.

  • 69.

    The work in 2011 has been making sure that the foundations were in place for fair and proportionate decision making in the new OFR regime. We are currently reviewing our approach to quality assurance and auditing and will report further on this next year.

Auditing key areas of our regulatory decision making

  • 70.

    Pearn Kandola highlighted that there was a disproportionate number of complaints received by the SRA about BME solicitors, confirming:

    "It is important that solicitors are made aware that the SRA have a disproportionate number of cases raised against BME solicitors. Currently, some forms of reporting suggest that the disproportionality experienced by BME solicitors is purely due to the SRA; the results of this research indicate that this clearly is not the case."

  • 71.

    Having established this, Pearn Kandola then looked at the impact of the SRA's decision making. In areas where they found that the SRA's decisions were increasing the incoming disproportionality, they recommended that we carry out a detailed audit. We have been working on these audits over the past year which has involved detailed consideration of our how we have been complying with our decision making criteria and processes.

  • 72.

    We have completed the following six audits which are published in the report of progress in implementing the Pearn Kandola recommendations:

    • cases coming in to the SRA via the Risk and Designation Centre which is the first stage in the process;
    • cases which were not upheld following an investigation;
    • cases referred to a higher level for a first instance decision;
    • cases which were referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT);
    • cases which were not referred to the SDT; and
    • our decisions to impose practising certificate conditions.
  • 73.

    We have also carried out an audit of the regulatory decisions we make about solicitors alleged to have breached the accounts rules and practice regulations and this is being finalised and will also be published. Five of the audits were carried out by our internal audit team, one by the legal directorate and the audit of practising certificate decisions was conducted by an external consultant. This was arranged because this was the only area that Pearn Kandola found that there was a direct relationship between ethnicity and the SRA's decision making so we felt it was important to ensure that there was complete independence in this particular audit.

  • 74.

    Although there was no evidence of unfairness or discrimination found in any of the audits, we have identified a number of areas where we need to make improvements in the way we are working to strengthen the quality of our decision making and transparency. The three key challenges we have identified going forward are:

    • data recording and monitoring;
    • transparency by making sure that all decision were supported by a clear rationale;
    • decision making, and;
    • monitoring the outcomes of our supervisory work.
  • 75.

    It is essential that we continue to improve the way we collect and report data and monitor the equality impact of our work and the work we have been doing on this is covered below.

Diversity monitoring

  • 76.

    We are working to improve our diversity monitoring as planned and have published our fourth annual diversity monitoring report. This report provides statistical data about key aspects of our regulatory activity for the calendar year 2011 reflecting our approach to regulation before the introduction of the new Handbook in October 2011 and before we moved fully to our new outcomes-focused approach to regulation. The data is broken down by ethnicity, gender, age and for the first time this year we have been able to include a breakdown by disability across all areas of regulatory activity covered in this report. However, the disability data should be treated with some caution as there is still significant under reporting of disability in the profession.

  • 77.

    The report reveals similar patterns of disproportionality for 2011 as seen in previous years. At the end of this report we will outline some of the work we will be taking forward to address this.

  • 78.

    In the light of our move to outcomes-focused regulation, we will be reviewing how we report our diversity monitoring for 2012. We will continue to provide data for the regulatory outcomes of our enforcement work, namely the cases referred for disciplinary action internally (the conduct matters), those which are dealt with externally (SDT referrals) and interventions. We are currently considering how best to capture and monitor the work we are doing in supervision and authorisation.

  • 79.

    We are currently looking at how we monitor the outcomes of our supervisory work and will be looking at putting systems and processes in place to do this over the next few months. Monitoring our supervisory work will prove particularly challenging as we will need to find a way of capturing the type of engagement we have with firms and record the reasons for our decisions following that engagement. We need to capture the reasons why in some cases we may agree a way forward with the firm to address the problem that has been identified and why in other cases it might be appropriate to pursue enforcement action against a firm, and/or a regulated individual.

  • 80.

    Our move to online applications through mySRA, gave us the opportunity to incorporate an online diversity monitoring form for all students and solicitors on the roll although this has not so far led to an increase in diversity data as we had hoped. We still need to undertake some promotional work to persuade the profession to provide this information.

Monitoring the data we receive

  • 81.

    We are currently reviewing how to collect and monitor referral source data in the context of our new risk-based approach to regulation. We receive a large number of referrals each year from a variety of sources providing information and reports about possible misconduct by solicitors.

  • 82.

    As lay informants are the largest source of referrals, in the past we have focused our monitoring on this group, collecting diversity data from informants for 2009 and 2010, although only a small proportion of the total informant population returned the questionnaire in both years. We were unable to collect this data in 2011 as we have changed the way that we work, but made alternative plans in 2011 to collect a snapshot of informant diversity data from a survey conducted by BMG Research on our behalf. The survey was carried out in early 2012 and we will be reporting our findings shortly.

  • 83.

    We are continuing to work closely with the Legal Ombudsman and monitor the data they refer to us.

Improving how we respond to those in the profession with a disability

  • 84.

    We reviewed how we are doing in meeting our duty to provide reasonable adjustments since we published our Reasonable Adjustments Policy in 2010.

  • 85.

    In 2011 we started the process of moving our applications online through mySRA, the website where solicitors have access to their own account to enable them to make and monitor their applications. Our aim was to make this process compliant with a standard of AA-level conformance with the W3C's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0), which are designed to make content accessible to a wide range of people with disabilities including blindness and low vision, deafness and hearing loss, learning disabilities, cognitive limitations, limited movement, speech disabilities, photosensitivity and combinations of these.

  • 86.

    There were a number of technical issues which meant that our provider was not able to meet the desired standard across all areas although we have been working through the issues identified by our accessibility audit and expect that there will be fewer compliance issues for the next renewal process. To ensure we met our legal obligations we provided disabled people with the option to make their applications via a paper form. In response to a complaint from one disabled user we improved the information on our website about how to request reasonable adjustments, ensuring that there were guidelines on the ‘Contact us', the 'accessibility' page and on our mySRA pages. We also updated our reasonable adjustments' policy to reflect this.

  • 87.

    We monitored the number of reasonable adjustment requests received in 2011 and the majority were made via the Contact Centre (233) and related to the changes being made as mySRA went live. 34% of requests related to individuals with a long standing illness and the most frequent request was for information in a larger font.

  • 88.

    We had 5 complaints in 2011 and one of them was considered by our Independent Complaints Resolution Service and mentioned in their annual report. While it is reassuring that the ICRS found no evidence of discrimination, it did comment that our process for reasonable adjustments lacked clarity and consistency. We explained in our response to the report, that these comments emerged from one very complex case where key learning points had been identified before the case was referred to the ICRS. We have since reviewed our process and have included in our policy, more clear examples of the adjustments we could make to help users better understand our policy how it is applied.

  • 89.

    We are due to publish our external liaison policy and guidance which will govern how we may arrange home visits and/or communicate with people through their representative or advocate when appropriate as a reasonable adjustment.

  • 90.

    We also made a commitment to review the provision of reasonable adjustments for disabled students by Legal Practice Course (LPC) providers. Although this is a matter for the providers, the SRA requires all providers to ensure that appropriate arrangements are in place to ensure disabled students have the reasonable adjustments they need.

  • 91.

    We published a report of our findings from our monitoring activity 'Provision of reasonable adjustments for the LPC', This highlighted some good practice across many providers in making sure that disabled students have appropriate adjustments but there are weaknesses in the monitoring regime and the report concluded that: 'Beyond expressing some confidence that the evidence collected does indicate a good level of provision based on individual requirements, it is not possible to draw any other firm conclusion: it does require further targeted monitoring as to the adequacy or appropriateness of the reasonable adjustment made and this is reflected in the recommendations set out in the first part of this document.' The recommendations are being reviewed and taken forward.

The SRA - understanding and responding to consumers

  • 92.

    We published our first consumer affairs strategy in September 2011, entitled 'Empowering consumers - The SRA's approach'. This included an action plan setting out our approach towards providing more engagement opportunities for people using legal services, and towards creating a new wave of information and support for members of the public. One of the key achievements here has been the re-launch of our website to provide more accessible guidance - for example, we now provide 10 community language versions of our leaflet 'Thinking of using legal services?', and have added video clips as guides for consumers about key stages of the legal services process. We review and continuously improve the information we provide to consumers.

Better understanding the needs of consumers and the wider public

  • 93.

    Through 2011 and early 2012 our priority has been to put in place new ways for members of the public to have a voice about legal services, and about us as a regulator. In November 2011 we trialled a pilot engagement event in Leicester city centre with a diverse range of people, some of whom had used solicitors before but also a proportion who had no previous experience. We are planning similar events for the second half of 2012.

  • 94.

    In developing the new Handbook and moving towards OFR we carried out research with members of the public, to make sure that the decisions we took were informed by their views and experiences. This included a report titled "What consumers want and need from outcomes focused regulation (PDF 12 pages, 467K)" which interviewed consumers across England and Wales, during which we 'boosted' the numbers of participants with disabilities and from BME communities to make sure we were able to fully represent and understand their opinions.

  • 95.

    In the early part of 2012 we also launched a new forum to work directly with charities and other not-for-profit organisations with the intention of getting a better deal for disabled people when they use legal services, and overcoming barriers disabled people can face throughout that process. Through this forum we work with not-for-profit organisations at a national level that can bring about real change and tangible benefits for the people they represent.

  • 96.

    In March 2012 we published the findings of our research study (PDF 68 pages, 649K) into the experiences of people with hearing loss in accessing and using legal services. We worked in collaboration with the Legal Services Consumer Panel and Action on Hearing Loss on the study, which was delivered by the Deaf Studies Trust who interviewed nearly 40 people with impaired hearing. The results shone a light on how we could bring improvements from the legal sector for people with hearing loss, and the actions we are taking forward as a result include working with the Law Society to deliver a Practice Note on best practice in this area, and the creation (via Action on Hearing Loss) of support and information for consumers with hearing loss about getting the best from the legal process.

  • 97.

    This research has also helped us prepare for a further consumer research study during the second half of 2012. We will be exploring how consumers can become vulnerable at different stages of the legal services process and how information and support can be provided to try and minimise that vulnerability. We are aiming as a result to identify gaps in information provision for consumers and how these can be managed, as well as developing a better understanding of what it means to be vulnerable or at greater risk of disadvantage when you use a legal service. This in turn will support our work in delivering OFR and helping consumers to get the right outcomes for their specific circumstances. We will publish our findings in early 2013 and have prepared an equality impact assessment so that from the outset we can focus on the areas of greatest potential impact towards consumers who may have specific demographics, or belong to an equality group with protected characteristics.

  • 98.

    During 2012 we are also planning a programme of supervision work with firms that we regulate to build our understanding of the outcomes that are currently delivered to vulnerable people when they access legal services. Through this work we are aiming to encourage a greater level of responsiveness from SRA-regulated firms towards diverse groups of people, and people with specific requirements and communication preferences, which remains a key priority for us.

Conclusions

  • 99.

    Our second annual report shows that we have continued to make steady progress in achieving our equality and diversity agenda. This has been achieved during a period of huge change for the organisation and its people as we prepared for the introduction of outcome focussed regulation. The transformation programme we embarked upon gave us a real opportunity to build equality and diversity into the new ways of working, our approaches to regulating the profession using a risk based approach, and being outcome focussed.

  • 100.

    Engaging closely with all parts of the profession and our diverse stakeholders has been key to us being able to anticipate the potential equality impact as we developed and designed our new processes. Data, and information collection and monitoring, will be key to measuring whether these changes have had any impact, particularly in our supervisory work and our approach to firm based regulation.

  • 101.

    It is too early to assess the impact of what we have implemented, but this will come as the new ways of working and OFR begin to become embedded. We do not underestimate the challenge we have in measuring the impact of OFR on equality. We are continuing to explore new ways of demonstrating that we are a fair and proportionate regulator.

  • 102.

    There are issues that we anticipate will be with us for some time yet:

    • The challenges faced by sole practitioners and small firms in this economic climate - with the changes in the legal services market, this is likely to be an opportunity for many but, for some, will cause difficulties. As the regulator, we anticipate that we will still have to make sure that those in difficulties are managed in a way that is fair and proportionate, but which does not compromise consumer protection.
    • The disproportionate representation of BME solicitors in some of our regulatory outcomes. There is a lot we have done to ensure our decision making is fair and free from bias, and more we can do to make sure we are monitoring and auditing the quality of our decision making.
  • 103.

    We have continued to address the issue of disproportionality and while we remain committed to doing so and ensuring that our processes and the way we make decisions are fair and proportionate, tackling the root cause of disproportionality needs a wider debate and contribution from a range of stakeholders such as the Legal Services Board, the Law Society and the profession.

  • 104.

    Our engagement work with the profession and equality groups has been one of our successes over the years. It has also been very valuable in informing our policy development and decision making, and helping us to gain feedback about what concerns certain parts of the profession, enabling us to take action where appropriate to resolve any concerns. Although not one of our equality objectives for 2011, as it is embedded in the way we work, the successes in establishing our inclusive approach to communication with the profession have already been highlighted by Lord Ouseley in his first review in 2009.

  • 105.

    An example of this relationship is our engagement with equality groups and through the External Implementation Group (EIG). Sometimes issues have been difficult, but we acknowledge the importance of engaging with our equality groups, in particular on equality issues. Their contribution has been invaluable and we will continue to listen and respond.

  • 106.

    We recognise that we need to do more to improve the diversity profile of our workforce. The measures we have put in place such as the talent management programme and the move to our single site in Birmingham, will help us to tackle this more effectively. We are keen to become, and be seen as, an employer of choice and an organisation that recruits and retains the best diverse talent.

  • 107.

    In our action plan, which supports our Equality Framework, we set out some ambitious equality and diversity objectives and actions at a time of huge change. We acknowledge that there has been some slippage in delivering our actions but a great deal has been done and we are planning our 2012/2013 action plan which will be published later this year. We will aim to have fewer key objectives and actions in our next plan, which will be more outcome focussed, as we want to move towards measuring impact. Our performance indicator framework provides a useful starting point for us to begin measuring impact.