Improving diversity and social mobility in the legal profession
The Society of Black Lawyers (SBL) has submitted its response to the Legal Services Board (LSB) consultation on proposals to improve diversity and social mobility in the legal profession. The LSB proposals include making it mandatory for every law firm and chambers to collect and publish equality and diversity data on all its staff.
the LSB and approved regulators (which include the Bar Council, Solicitors’ Regulation Authority, the Institute of Legal Executives, the Bar Standards Board and the Law Society), have an objective under Section 1(1)(f) the Legal Services Act 2007 to encourage an independent, strong, diverse adn effective legal profession. In addition, the Equality Act 2010 has introduced a new public sector equality duty which came into force in April 2011, which requires any body exercising public functions to have regard to the need to:
- eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation;
- advance equality of opportunity between different groups; and
- foster good relations between different groups.
The LSB conducted a year review, which included examining existing academic research, commissioning and publishing new research and establishing a Diversity Forum bringing together approved regulators and professinal/representative bodies. Theis review highlighted the following issues:
- There is a lack of comprehensive data on the make-up of the existing legal workforce across the full range of diversity strands, particularly at the level of individual firms or chambers;
- While there is a significant investment of resources and effort in diversity initiatives, particularly at entry level, there has been no systematic evaluation of their impact and effectiveness;
- The statistics that are available in relation to the gender and ethnicity of solicitors and barristers at different levels of seniority illustrates that although the profession is relatively diverse at entry level, the picture at the more senior levels is still one of white male dominance. The retention and progression of women and ethnic minority practitioners remains a significant issue; and
- Corporate consumers of legal services are increasingly demanding informaiton about an organisation’s performance in relation to equality and diversity and using this as a criterion for purchasing decisions.
Rosemary Emodi, SBL Co-Vice Chair commented:
“We welcome the LSB’s proposals for ensuring greater transparency, but we would also encourage the Board to go even further. For those of us who have been involved in the struggle for equality and access, timescales are an important factor. Whatever actions the LSB proposes to take in order to increase diversity and social mobility at every level of the profession, the timescales might be clearly defined. Ethnic minority communities should not have to wait another 40 years in order to secure lasting systemic change.”