- Legal Futures - https://www.legalfutures.co.uk -

Diversity deadline looms for thousands of firms


Diversity: SRA urges data collection not to be standalone exercise

More than 6,000 law firms have yet to submit their workforce diversity data to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the regulator warned yesterday.

They now have less than three weeks until the 31 January deadline for reporting the aggregated data collected from partners and staff.

The SRA complained that “despite repeated reminders” sent out to firms since the online exercise first opened in July 2013, only 3,954 firms have complied with the regulatory requirement.

Unlike in the first year of monitoring, this time the SRA is not providing an online survey and essentially collating the results itself, meaning that firms have to make their own arrangements to collect the data and then report it to the SRA.

They also have to publish a summary of it themselves, although smaller firms have an exemption if they cannot publish the data without the risk of identification.

Mehrunnisa Lalani, the SRA’s director of inclusion, said: “With just three weeks to go, we are urging firms to complete their survey as soon as possible – or face regulatory action for non-compliance. We have put a lot of guidance on our website [2].”

Once the information has been collated, the SRA will publish a report on the legal workforce in England and Wales.

The SRA said monitoring should not be used a standalone exercise “just done for the sake of compliance”.

“The information gathered will help identify any diversity issues so that appropriate steps can be taken to resolve them. Diversity monitoring is just one of the tools that a firm can use to manage the risks of non-compliance with the discrimination legislation or the regulatory regime which could lead to complaints to the Legal Ombudsman, legal action or investigation by the SRA.

“The benefits of diversity monitoring have been recognised by many firms leading the way in this area. Signatories to the Law Society’s Diversity and Inclusion Charter have all recognised the real benefits that monitoring can bring.”

The requirement has been imposed by the Legal Services Board (LSB), which has argued in the past that it is a “light-touch way” of recognising that the legal sector needs to modernise and improve in terms of diversity.

In a speech in 2012, LSB chairman David Edmonds said [3]: “What we are proposing is straightforward – we want firms and chambers to be open and transparent about diversity. We are not trying to control who firms and chambers appoint or promote – that is a matter for them. Nor are we trying to impose a vision of a ‘perfect’ firm where the representation of particular groups is exactly in proportion to the wider population.

“But we do want to put pressure to start identifying and tackling the barriers facing particular groups.”

More recently, in October 2013 the LSB argued [4] that the frontline regulators should in future make workforce diversity one of the factors when they rate the risk that firms present to the public, and focus supervision on those with the worst records.

See feature: Danger – diversity monitoring and data protection [5]