Law Society set for push to improve equality and diversity practices across solicitors' profession

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By Legal Futures

1 December 2011

Diversity: push to increase number of BME lawyers at City firms

The Law Society is considering whether any law firm which recruits trainee solicitors should have to undergo mandatory training in equality and diversity (E&D), Legal Futures can report.

It may also work with the largest City law firms to help them recruit more black and minority ethnic (BME) lawyers.

The ideas are floated in a soon-to-be-published career barriers action plan, which lays out a series of measures aimed at addressing multiple access and career progression problems faced by women, BME, and gay, lesbian and bisexual solicitors and would-be solicitors.

The action plan covers 15 main themes that came out of research published by the Law Society last year into the experiences of these three groups, such as an “apparent acceptance that discrimination is embedded within the profession” and pay differentials.

Other issues being addressed include a lack of informed E&D practices in law firms, some groups being directed towards less prestigious or less lucrative areas of work, individuals being ill-informed when embarking on a career in the law, and billing practices and the remuneration policies of partnerships.

The idea of mandatory training in E&D is one possible response to the difficulties some reported in securing training contracts. The action plan says the society’s regulatory affairs board will encourage the Solicitors Regulation Authority to review the requirements firms must meet in order to become registered training establishments that offer training contracts, with mandatory E&D training one option that may be put forward.

The problems faced by BME lawyers breaking into the largest firms are well documented. The action plan says there has been “some interest” among City practices in developing “an initiative to bring BME lawyers into firms”.

Legal Futures has already revealed measures to improve the take-up of flexible working that will form part of the action plan.

Alongside this work has been a review of the procurement protocol that forms part of the society’s diversity and inclusion charter. The protocol lays out good practice in the procurement of legal services and currently has 35 signatories, mainly FTSE-100 companies and public authorities.

The research, which looked at how signatories currently use the protocol to drive diversity and inclusion change within legal firms, found that flexible working uptake was viewed as a “critical indicator of significant change within firms”. It also said that law firms are still not recruiting and retaining enough BME lawyers.

The review found an increasing move among purchasers of legal services towards selection and de-selection decisions based on sustained diversity improvements and initiatives.

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