According to data collected by the University of Leeds and Newcastle University Business School, white men still dominate the legal profession.
The data collected covers solicitors who entered the profession between 1970 – 2016 but it only included those who were still on the roll from 2006 onwards.
Some progress can be seen; around half of solicitors are women and BAME solicitors have risen from 0.25% in 1982 to 16% now. In addition, a third of partners are now women.
There is clearly still much progress to be made, however, if true diversity is to be achieved. White men are over three times more likely to become a partner in large corporate firms than white women, and six times more likely than BAME women.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority provided an accompanying report, Unlocking the Benefits of Diversity, in which it conducted in-depth interviews with 32 law firms. In the report, the SRA stated that:
“this is an issue that has to be tackled not solely at entry level, where there is a good story emerging, we also need to make sure that action is taken to address diversity differentials in relation to progression to senior levels within the profession.”
The report added that the firms’ attitude can impact the success of initiatives designed to increase diversity.
SRA chief executive, Paul Philip, said firms have made progress to improve diversity but that the sector ‘still has some way to go’. He added:
“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.”
Unsurprising but it does appear that progress is slowly being made. Clearly, however, there is still a long way to go before meaningful diversity is achieved.