Law firms “well placed” to set socio-economic targets

Wallace: Five-point pathway can act as a compass

Law firms are “well placed” to set socio-economic diversity targets because of data they are required to collect by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), a taskforce led by the City of London Corporation has said.

The socio-economic diversity taskforce called for 50% of senior leaders across the UK finance and professional services sector, rather than in any one firm, to come from non-professional backgrounds by 2030.

In its report Breaking the Class Ceiling, the taskforce singled out the Law Society’s online social mobility hub, the SRA’s data collection regime and the Legal Services Board (LSB) diversity dashboard as good examples of how to improve socio-economic diversity.

The SRA has been collecting data on socio-economic background of staff at law firms every two years since 2013, with law firms able to use its diversity data tool to benchmark themselves against the profile of the profession as a whole.

Although there was “always more work that employers can do to encourage staff to be open about their socio-economic background”, declaration rates among solicitors were good.

The report said: “The number of people who prefer not to share information about their background has steadily gone down over the years for all staff working in law firms.

“In 2021, only 11% preferred not to declare their parents’ occupation and 6% the type of school they attended.

“Law firms are well placed to use the data they have about diversity in their workplace to implement the actions recommended in this report to drive progress.”

The taskforce set out a five-point pathway for employers to follow in improving socio-economic diversity.

This involves making senior leaders responsible for socio-economic diversity, collecting data on employee socio-economic backgrounds (by the end of 2024), taking action to increase socio-economic diversity at senior levels and monitoring it, setting targets, and publishing data.

Researchers said that, as part of its campaign to improve social mobility in the legal profession, the Law Society used its social mobility hub to share resources with law firms to help increase employee response rates to the SRA’s data requests.

“The Law Society and the SRA have a data-sharing agreement which enables the organisation to access the data that the SRA collects from individual solicitors.

“This is used to supplement and facilitate data collection from member surveys, and carry out further analysis such as in their annual statistics report.

“As a result, the Law Society can build a more granular and intersectional understanding of the profession’s socio-economic diversity.”

Meanwhile, through its diversity dashboard, the LSB measured social mobility across the legal regulators, based on type of school attended and parental qualifications.

“It is well established that the legal profession is not sufficiently diverse, so why do we need a data dashboard to tell us this?

“The power of the dashboard lies in connecting data sets to provide meaningful insights that tell a compelling story to those who might not engage with tables of numbers. It is not just the data you have – it is how you use it.”

Lubna Shuja, president of the Law Society, commented: “We know there is already great work underway to remove barriers to entry and progression for solicitors from non-professional backgrounds.

“However, the picture of socio-economic diversity in the profession shows there is much more to do and we hope the taskforce’s five-point plan will support legal sector employers in driving change.”

Sandra Wallace, co-chair of the socio-economic diversity taskforce and joint managing director, UK and Europe, at DLA Piper, added: “For the many employers already on the path to ensuring greater socio-economic diversity in our industries, the five-point pathway detailed in this report acts as a compass to help them continue on their way.

“For those yet to begin their journey, here is a good place to start. This is not intended to be a carrot or a stick, but a pathway to the industry’s continued success and relevance.”

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