Law firm profile shows improving diversity across the legal sector, but improvement still needed at senior levels

Posted On: 
14th February 2018

Data published today by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) reveals that while the overall legal sector is increasingly reflective of wider society, challenges remain in achieving true diversity at senior levels in some firms.

Based on information from 180,000 people working at 9,000 law firms across England and Wales, the SRA’s data shows that diversity in the sector continues to improve. Nearly half of all solicitors are women (48%) and one in five (21%) are from a black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) background.

At a more senior level one third (33%) of partners are now women. While this figure falls to 29% for larger firms of 50 or more partners, this represents a 4% improvement on 2014 (25%).

Larger firms continue to have a lower proportion of BAME partners (8%) compared to more than a third (34%) of partners in sole practice coming from a BAME background.

Just 3% of solicitors describe themselves as disabled, which is significantly below the Government’s 10% estimate for the wider UK workforce. 3% identified as being lesbian, gay or bisexual, which compares to Stonewall’s estimate of 5-7% for the wider population.

Accompanying these latest statistics, the SRA has also published a Risk Outlook paper entitled ‘The Business Case for Diversity’, which outlines the benefits of diversity for both the public and firms.

Further key findings of the SRA survey include:

• 57% of partners attended a state school (up from 47% from 2014).
• The majority of partners (59%) were the first generation in their family to attend university.
• A third of all solicitors have primary child caring responsibilities.
• 2% of solicitors said their gender identity was different to that assigned to them at birth - the first time the SRA has gathered transgender data.

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 and 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.”

The SRA’s latest diversity figures are based on information collected in August 2017 via an online survey which 92% of all law firms in England and Wales completed. Similar data collection exercises were run in 2014 and 2015, enabling the SRA to track progress over time.

A comparison tool is available on the SRA's website which allows firms to benchmark how they compare to similar firms in the profession.

You can view more detail on the SRA’s findings visit: http://www.sra.org.uk/solicitors/diversity-toolkit/diverse-law-firms.page