Diversity in the legal sector
Diversity in the working world is all about combating discrimination in employment and promoting equality. Related to human rights law, it spans across all areas of working life, from recruitment and dismissal issues to treatment of the individual and minority groups in the workplace.
In the employment law context, the Equality Act 2010 outlines the framework of legislation to protect and enforce equality in the UK. All companies, including law firms, are obligated to adhere to equal employment guidelines, and the majority of modern law firms are now actively working on improving and promoting their diversity policies.
Aspects of diversity include:
- Sexual orientation
- Religion and belief
- Gender reassignment
- Social mobility
- Marriage and civil partnership
- Pregnancy and maternity.
Diversity in the legal sector
Legal professions have traditionally been viewed as white, male and elitist, and pretty much closed off to anybody not fitting that bill. It’s a big barrier to break down, and there are arguably still a lot of issues to overcome. However, action is now being taken to tackle discrimination, open up the sector and create equal employment opportunities in the modern legal profession.
Law firms must uphold diversity requirements outlined by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the regulator for the solicitors’ profession in England and Wales, in their recruitment and within the workplace. The SRA works closely with a number of representative groups of protected characteristics, and states its public sector duties regarding diversity and equality to be as follows:
- “Eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation.”
- “Advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not.”
- “Foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not.”
The Law Society carries out lot of work to support and spread word of the SRA’s regulations, and has divisions for ethnic minority lawyers, lawyers with disabilities, junior lawyers and women divisions dedicated to providing support to their members.
Diversity initiatives & societies
A number of representative groups are established within the legal sector. Here are a few which collaborate with the SRA and Law Society:
- The Black Solicitors’ Network (BSN) works towards “equality of access, retention and promotion of black solicitors within the sector”.
- The Lawyers with Disabilities Division (LDD) is “committed to promoting equality of opportunity for people with disabilities – whether they are solicitors, would-be solicitors or clients”.
- The Interlaw Diversity Forum "works to foster inclusion for all diverse, socially mobile, and under-represented talent working in the legal sector, and to promote meritocracy in all sectors by working to 'level the playing field' in order to create environments where the best talent can succeed." Membership of the Forum and its events are free, and are open to anyone who works in the legal sector.
- The Association of Women Solicitors is now part of the Law Society’s new Women Lawyers Division, which “supports and advises all women solicitors, no matter their area of practice, and includes LPC graduates, all women on the roll, women on a career and even retirees”.
The rise of legal apprenticeships and talks about a possible “Solicitor Apprenticeship” to work alongside the traditional graduate route to becoming a lawyer is indication of a wave of change in the legal sector. Though it’s currently a whisper, there is potential for this route to become an established pathway, as in the accountancy profession – a big step for social mobility, encouraging those who may be put off by high course fees to pursue the profession.
Law diversity statistics
The Aspiring Lawyer Survey , conducted by AllAboutResearch in 2013, sampled 10,000 aspiring lawyers (either law students or non-law students) from the cvmailUK application system, and gives a taste of how diversity currently shapes up for young law applicants:
Declined to answer 1%
Secondary School Status
Declined to answer 5%
White (British) 56%
White (Irish) 2%
White (other) 12%
Declined to answer 2%
For more information about diversity in the legal sector, you can check out The Law Society website.