SRA publishes research into disproportionality

The Solicitors Regulation Authority published today the final report on research carried out by consultants Pearn Kandola into the over-representation of black and minority ethnic (BME) solicitors in regulatory decisions and outcomes.

The report, commissioned by the SRA as part of its Equality and Diversity Strategy, concludes that

  • a disproportionate number of cases involving BME solicitors are referred to the SRA,
  • those most likely to have cases raised against them are trainees, those who have recently qualified and those who have been in practice for a long time;
  • solicitors in smaller firms are more likely than others to have a case raised against them, and BME solicitors are over-represented in these firms and those that are BME-owned;
  • while qualification through the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Test (QLTT) is not of itself a predictor of regulatory action, there is disproportionate involvement of QLTT lawyers from some jurisdictions;
  • the SRA's consideration of cases adds to the original disproportionality in certain types of decisions, is neutral in others, and in some areas reduces the disproportionality;
  • BME solicitors are more likely than others to be referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.

Pearn Kandola comment that very few professional regulators are tackling this issue. Their recommendations include

  • the provision of more information about disproportionality, to counter the misapprehension that the sole cause of disproportionality in regulatory proceedings rests with the SRA;
  • the collection and recording of data about complainants, which might help the SRA deal with "the disproportionality that is coming in through the organisation's front door";
  • reviews of the monitoring of the support provided by firms to trainees and solicitors and whether solicitors' Continuing Professional Development is effective;
  • regular monitoring of data about solicitors who qualify via the qualified lawyer transfer route;
  • more guidance to people on what constitutes a fair complaint against a solicitor (Implementation will require involvement by the Legal Complaints Services, shortly to be succeeded by the Legal Ombudsman.);
  • a review of the guidelines for the referral of cases to adjudication and committees, since it appears that cases about BME solicitors are more likely to be referred to higher-level decision makers.

The SRA accepts the recommendations made by Pearn Kandola and has drawn up an action plan (reproduced at the end of the report) to guide their implementation, many aspects of which are already in train.

SRA chief executive Antony Townsend said, "The SRA is firmly committed to acting fairly and valuing equality and diversity. For the first time, we have a detailed picture of where the disproportionately high involvement of BME solicitors in our work is arising, identifying the external and internal factors. This has enabled us to draw up and publish our action plan, which we shall pursue in cooperation with equality groups in the profession."

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