LSB: regulators better on diversity but barristers still coy about backgrounds

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27 March 2015

Barristers: reluctant to disclose socio-econmic origins

Barristers: reluctant to disclose socio-economic origins

More than 80% of barristers have declined to disclose information about their socio-economic backgrounds when asked to do so by their professional regulator, it has emerged.

The statistic was highlighted in the Legal Services Board’s (LSB) second review of regulators’ progress in gathering diversity information against its 2011 guidance.

Legal Futures first reported last month that the review would say that regulators need to do more with the diversity data they now collect in order to drive improvements in recruitment and particularly progression and retention within the profession.

The report, Diversity data collection and transparency, was published yesterday and complained that the regulators’ analysis and use of the data they collected “lacked the statistical sophistication necessary for it to have the level of impact hoped for” on improving diversity.

However, the LSB praised regulators for having developed a “robust evidence base” and repeatedly noted that their efforts in increasing the amount of data disclosed had improved significantly year on year, particularly among small and medium-sized firms.

While the report observed there had been “a large increase in the information available on the socio-economic background of members of the legal services workforce” generally, in a detailed summary of the Bar Standards Board’s (BSB) performance it found a number of monitoring exercises had produced widely varying response rates.

Although it had compiled gender data on 98% of the practising Bar, it had acquired data on the socio-economic backgrounds of just 19% of barristers. Elsewhere, the BSB had some success in bringing barristers into line on diversity. In the past two years, monitoring samples of chambers revealed a greater proportion complying with surveys, up from 59% in 2013 to 72% in 2014.

Barristers’ unwillingness to supply a full range of diversity data has been an ongoing problem. Last year we reported that fewer than 15% disclosed information about any disabilities, their religion or belief, sexual orientation, and caring responsibilities.

The LSB also said regulators – in particular those not regulating entities – should pay attention to the burden imposed by data collection. This should include the frequency of data collection and “possible regulatory overlap in multi-disciplinary practices and the potential for joined up data collection exercises”.

The report singled out the Intellectual Property Regulation Board (IPReg) as the only regulator to have failed to publish data on all the diversity characteristics required by LSB guidance. “This should be addressed as a matter of urgency,” it urged.

It concluded: “We acknowledge there will be a proportionate response from each of the regulators to our guidance, and are realistic at the speed of change that can be expected with the longstanding challenges to the profession.

“However, having successfully implemented the action plans developed in response to our guidance, all regulators now need to reflect on how the data they are collecting can be used more effectively in tackling the long term issues with progression and retention in the sector.”

Legal Services Board Chairman, Sir Michael Pitt, said: “It is important that we encourage the development of a diverse and socially mobile legal sector that reflects the society it serves.

“Regulators are to be commended for developing a robust evidence base on diversity. However, their use of this data has not had the level of impact hoped for on the many issues identified by the LSB’s research in this area and they need to reconsider their approach to this.”

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