Lack of compliance by law firms and chambers with the new requirements to publish information about the diversity of their staff “will in itself tell a story”, the chairman of the Legal Services Board has claimed.
Later this year all regulated entities will have to conduct diversity surveys, providing anonymised results to the regulators and publishing them for public consumption. Staff members will be able to tick ‘Prefer not to say’.
Delivering the Eldon Lecture, David Edmonds said: “We recognise that regulators cannot enforce top-down diversity but that the market has a role to play. Hence the importance of firm-based publication. This is a simple but potentially powerful intervention…
“Lack of compliance will in itself tell a story. If firms and chambers publish limited data with significant numbers of ‘prefer not to say’, it might reveal something about the culture of their organisation. If the number in each category is so low that it can’t be published, again this might tell us something.”
He argued that the requirement it has placed on the regulators to collect this information is not “political correctne
ss gone mad” – rather, it is a “light-touch way” of recognising that the legal sector needs to modernise and improve on this front, especially given its role in protecting the rule of law and providing the country’s judiciary.
He said: “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. If the figures indicate sprawling gaps, then of course they need to do more to encourage applicants from a wide range of backgrounds.”
Dismissing the idea that the surveys will be onerous or otherwise burdensome, Mr Edmonds also said the board was not asking for sensitive data that might be an intrusion of privacy. “It’s important to note that answering the questions remains voluntary. Everyone has the right to ‘prefer not to say’. This is not about finding out information on individuals.
Rather it is about identifying where people with particular characteristics face barriers, so that targeted action can be taken.
“That said, not everyone is familiar with diversity monitoring so firms will need to communicate clearly why this is necessary and how the data will be used.”