Oct 23, 2021

Written By Thomas Cserep

How diverse are law firms?

Oct 23, 2021

Written By Thomas Cserep

Historically, law has been a white, male and middle class space. However, over the last few decades, the legal industry has been trying to diversify. We have collected the latest diversity data from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) to see how diverse law firms are today.   

Gender

The legal industry has made great strides towards gender equality. In 2019, 49% of solicitors working for law firms were women. When we compare this figure to other sectors, it is actually above the national average: only 47% of the entire UK labour force is made up of women.

Nonetheless, the gender profile of a law firm also depends on its size and type. Whilst in international and national law firms over 50% are women, smaller regional firms still tend to hire more male solicitors. 

Law firms have also been encouraging applications from people who do not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. According to the latest figures, 3% of solicitors working in law firms today are transgender. 

Even though there has been great progress in achieving gender equality, there is still work to do. Senior positions still tend to be dominated by men, and women often struggle to climb up the legal hierarchy. In the latest survey of the SRA, the proportion of female partners in firms stands at 33%. 

 

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Ethnicity

For a long time the legal industry has been a predominantly white workforce. However, thanks to initiatives run by the government and law firms, there is an increasing number of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) solicitors working in law. 

In 2019, 21% of solicitors in law firms identified with a BAME background. Unlike with gender, this proportion is maintained throughout the legal hierarchy: 22% of partners in the UK are BAME. This is encouraging, especially when considering that the BAME population makes up 13% of the UK labour force.

However, there are stark variations when we break down the 21% figure to differentiate between the different ethnicities that are under the BAME umbrella. Whilst 15% of BAME solicitors identify as Asian, the proportion of lawyers who are black and multiple/mixed are just 3% and 2% respectively. 

According to the SRA’s data, international law firms and those working with the most profitable legal areas – such as finance and commerce – still remain relatively exclusive for BAME solicitors. In the largest firms only 8% of employees identified as BAME.

 

Religion & belief

In many respects, the data patterns for religious beliefs follow that of ethnicity. While there has been a decline in the percentage of Christian solicitors, the proportion of lawyers who identify as Muslim jumped from 5% in 2014 to 10% in 2019. 

The percentage of solicitors who are Hindu (3%), Jewish (3%), Sikh (2%), Buddhist (1%) or have no religious belief (30%) stayed the same since 2017.

Nonetheless, this religious diversity does not cut across all law firms. For example, in the largest firms, only 3% of solicitors were Muslim. 

 

Social mobility

The legal industry continues to be an exclusive sector when we look at the social background of solicitors. Just 7% of the whole UK labour force went to a fee paying school, while 21% of solicitors did. This figure increases higher up in the legal hierarchy, as 23% of partners attended a fee paying school. 

Looking deeper into the data, there is more evidence of privilege, for example, only 46% of solicitors who work in corporate law are state educated. 

Solicitors also tend to have highly educated parents. 51% of lawyers’ parents have earned a degree, putting them in a good position to have an upbringing that supports their journey to earn the best paying jobs.

 

From the information collected by the SRA, it is clear that the legal industry is becoming more diverse. However, steps still need to be taken in order to continue increasing diversity in certain areas, especially in larger corporate firms.

 

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