The Legal Services Board (LSB) will next year carry out the first formal assessment of how the profession’s regulators have performed in improving diversity in their parts of the law, it has announced.
Publishing its revised diversity guidance, the LSB said that, following discussions with the regulators this summer, the first of what would become annual assessments would begin in August 2018 – but it expects to see the guidance influencing activities this year.
It followed a consultation last year. In its response to that exercise, also published yesterday, the LSB said it wanted to be “less prescriptive” in its approach to diversity by shifting to outcomes-focused guidance, and allowing regulators to “develop their own approaches”.
It went on: “The suggestion that a switch to a focus on outcomes and less prescription is the LSB taking a ‘step back’ from its commitments to diversity is unfounded.
“The new guidance gives the regulators the responsibility to improve their work in this area, for which we will hold them to account.”
The new guidance lists four outcomes:
- The regulator continues to build a clear and thorough understanding of the diversity profile of its regulated community (beginning at entry), how this changes over time and where greater diversity in the workforce needs to be encouraged;
- The regulator uses data, evidence and intelligence about the diversity of the workforce to inform development of, and evaluate the effectiveness of, its regulatory arrangements, operational processes and other activities;
- The regulator collaborates with others to encourage a diverse workforce, including sharing good practice, data collection, and other relevant activities; and
- The regulator accounts to its stakeholders for its understanding, its achievements and plans to encourage a diverse workforce.
The LSB said the new flexibility would allow regulators “to work towards a common goal in different ways”.
It continued: “The assessment will provide us with the evidence to make judgements on the regulators’ work, and allow us to state publicly how they are performing.”
The LSB said it had not come to a final decision on how best to assess the regulators, and the consultation responses “did not present a consensus”, but it would carry out an “effective and comprehensive analysis” to ensure they were not allowed to “step away” from their responsibilities.
Chief executive Neil Buckley said: “Diversity is a key issue on which the LSB places great significance. We believe that a more diverse profession will support the delivery of legal services and encourage innovation in the sector.
“Our new guidance gives regulators greater flexibility and will help the sector find new ways of developing the diversity of the workforce and assist in collecting and using the valuable data gathered in the last five years.
“We will be reviewing the progress made by regulators in August 2017 and expect them to have started to use the greater flexibility offered by this guidance to make positive strides to address this issue.”
Welcoming the LSB’s announcement, Jane Malcolm, SRA executive director of external affairs, commented: “Encouraging diversity is not only the right thing to do, it makes business sense. A diverse sector is a strong, competitive sector and we want to see the best people from every background thriving in law.”