News release

Regulatory review shows progress but more to do to create a diverse legal profession

  • Regulatory review shows progress but more to do to create a diverse legal profession
  • Six times as many women entering the profession when compared to 1970
  • White male solicitors almost six times more likely to become a partner than BAME females

We have published research showing the progress made in creating a more diverse profession, yet highlighting the problem that women and Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) solicitors still face career progression barriers.

The independent research carried out by the University of Leeds and Newcastle University Business School is the most extensive of its type. It analysed data for more than 194,000 solicitors between 1970 and 2016

The proportion of women and BAME people entering the profession has risen significantly. Only around 10 percent of entrants were female in 1970 compared to 60 percent in 2016. Around half of all solicitors are now female. There has also been a large increase in the proportion of BAME solicitors over the last three decades: from 0.25 percent in 1982 to 16 percent now.

Yet despite progress, the research shows that career progression is still an issue. Partnership remains male dominated, with only a third of partners female. The prospect of becoming a partner will vary depending on firm size. White males are over three times more likely to become a partner in large corporate firms than white females and six times more likely than BAME females.

The best opportunities for females of all ethnicities to become a partner were in a small firm, as is the case for BAME males.

The independent research has been published alongside our thematic review of equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) issues, which involved more than 40 groups and law firms.

As well as highlighting the benefits of diverse, inclusive firms, it provides examples of good practice.

This includes firms:

  • reviewing all policies from an EDI perspective to strip out any diversity bias
  • encouraging partners to take paternity leave, sending positive signals to both male and female employees
  • making sure EDI issues are prioritised at the top, for instance by senior management or their CEO chairing its diversity committee

Challenges that can hold back progress include a perception that flexible working could compromise good client service, flat firm structures making career progression difficult and not addressing issues of unconscious bias in selection processes.

Paul Philip, SRA Chief Executive, said: “This independent research shows that although progress has been made, the sector still has some way to go.

“This is not about ticking boxes. Diverse, inclusive law firms benefit everybody. They can attract and retain the best people, regardless of background. If firms reflect the communities they serve, it may also help improve access to legal services.

“Our thematic review shows that firms are trying different ways of increasing diversity. It is clear that a willingness to change and simple steps can make a big difference.”

Our reports our below

Unlocking the benefits of diversity

Mapping advantages and disadvantages: Diversity in the legal profession in England and Wales

*The analysis of data is for solicitors who entered the profession between 1970 and 2016. However, it only includes solicitors who were still on the Roll from 2006 onwards. This is because data for solicitors who left the profession before 2006 is not complete, with key information missing. The research provides the most accurate possible picture of diversity and career progression over several decades.