How Diverse Is Your Law Firm?

Demand for legal skills across the UK increased sharply this year and law firms being ever busier will increasingly require the pick of a diverse pool of talented and skilled individuals in order that they can increase their capacity and improve the efficiency of their firms.

While The Law Society published recommendations for pay gap reporting in the legal sector they stated that data about disability, ethnicity, sexuality and gender will help law firms develop comprehensive equality action plans.

Christina Blacklaws, The Law Society President said: “Law firms can get ahead of the curve by assessing and tackling the range of pay gaps that may exist in their organisation,”

“Inequalities can be compounded by the intersection of protected characteristics like gender and ethnicity, so identifying these dynamics will help firms to create far more effective and sustainable equality action plans.

“We have worked with the profession to develop a common set of standards that provide the level of transparency expected by firms’ clients, people and the public.”

To give firms a useful benchmark and enable an evidence-based action plan to tackle inequalities The Law Society supports the addition of partner pay along with employee pay data in gender pay gap reporting.

As partner pay is structured differently from salaries, alongside best practice guidance, The Law Society offers further recommendations to firms as follows:

·         Distinguish between equity and non-equity partners

·         Publish a full time equivalent (FTE) total compensation gap based on a full financial year

·         Report any equivalent partner bonus scheme that can be compared with the employee bonus scheme

·         Calculate based on the same weekly working hours for partners as for employees

Christina Blacklaws added: “We will continue to work with government and other professional and business services so that approaches to partner pay are comparable across firms and industries.” 

As female solicitors outnumber male colleagues for the first time in history, The Law Society of England and Wales also marked International Women’s Day 2018 by releasing the largest international Survey on gender equality in the legal profession.

The Law Society President, Christina Blacklaws said: “people working in law across the world have spoken out about the challenges the profession faces in achieving gender equality.

“I am a passionate believer in equality. Where there is inequality, I will not flinch from tackling it.

“I know I’m not alone in this – justice, fairness and the rule of law are what drew most of us to the legal profession.

“While more and more women are becoming lawyers, this shift is not yet reflected at more senior levels in the profession. Our survey and a wider programme of work during my presidency in 2018-19 seek to understand progress, barriers and support remedies.”

In 2017 the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) collected diversity data from law firms they regulate in England and Wales in which staff were asked to respond to a standard set of diversity questions.

92% of law firms reported their data which included information from nearly 180,000 people working in almost 9,000 firms.

Key Findings:

·         Gender – Overall Women make up 48% of all lawyers in law firms and 47% of the UK Workforce. With regards to seniority, in 2017 women make up 59% of non-partner solicitors compared to 33% of partners. However, there is signs of progress in the largest law firms, with the proportion of female partners rising steadily from 25% in 2014 to 29% in 2017.

·         Transgender – This was their first set of diversity data for transgender, research found out 2% of solicitors, 2% of other staff and 1% of partners confirmed that their gender identity was different to that assigned to them at birth.

·         EthnicityThere has been an increase in the proportion of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) lawyers working in law firms, now one in five lawyers. This is up 7%, from 14% in 2014 to 21% in 2017. In 2015, 11% of the UK workforce were BAME. Interestingly, unlike the profile for women, there is very little difference in seniority among BAME lawyers, 21% of solicitors are BAME compared to 20% of partners. But data revealed differences when looking at the breakdown of partners in firms by size.

·         Sexual OrientationA greater proportion of lawyers identify as lesbian, gay or bi-sexual (LGB) in law firms (3%) compared to the UK population (2%).

·         Religion and BeliefChristians form the largest proportion of all lawyers at 51% which is down 6% from 2014. Those who had no religion or belief (including those reporting as atheists) form the second largest group at 30%, up from 29% in 2014. The next largest faith group is Muslim up from 5% in 2014 to 8% in 2017. The remaining faith groups are 3% for Jewish and Hindu groups, 2% for Sikh and other faith groups and 1% for Buddhist.

Paul Philip, SRA Chief Executive, said: “I know we will all welcome the progress that is clearly being made in many areas. But there is much more to do to achieve a truly diverse profession that reflects the community it serves, encourages people to access the legal services they need and offers opportunities for the brightest and best from every background.

“The changes we are making to the training of solicitors, the growing and varied initiatives in the sector to support people into the profession and the leadership shown by many firms will all help. Our new report on the benefits of diversity makes it clear that diversity is good for business as well as for the public, the profession and wider society. I think the report will help law firms to consider what more they can do to realise those business benefits, as well as doing the right thing.”

To read more on the SRA’s diversity data report click here.

There is no doubt that the legal industry is showing encouraging signs of diversity amongst its staff, but there is still improvement needed overall and at senior levels. The benefits of good diversity in law firms not only meets legal and regulatory equality duties, it widens the access to a much greater recruitment pool, it retains more staff and results in a flexible and responsive workforce. 

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