Jane Furniss

Furniss: Firms “must go further” than simply sending information

Law firms will be able to check the diversity data of similar practices from next month, Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has revealed.

Jane Furniss, chair of the SRA’s equality, diversity and inclusion committee, said allowing firms access to anonymised data on similar-sized and located practices would help give them confidence to improve diversity.

“We consider it to be critical that all firms take their responsibility in this area seriously,” Ms Furniss said. “Many do, but some don’t.

“Our view is that requesting firms to gather and collate this data has an important impact in its own right.

“However, firms need to go further than simply sending it to the SRA. We want firms to consider it themselves and ask important questions about their policies and procedures.”

Speaking at a LexisNexis and Black Solicitors Network event in London, Ms Furniss said a lack of opportunity and progression in the market, for example for BAME solicitors and women, remained a “significant issue”.

However, she praised solicitors for responding “incredibly well” to the regulator’s requests for diversity data earlier this year.

Referring to Professor Gus John’s report on disproportionality in the regulation of BAME firms and its warning that outcomes-focused regulation (OFR) may not in itself improve the situation, Ms Furniss said that a “one size fits all” model of regulation could not be applied to a complex sector where “one size fits few”.

“We know that sole practitioners and small firms have finite resources, and in most instances serve a vulnerable population.

“It is therefore hugely important that we enable small firms to put their clients’ interests at the forefront and remove any unnecessary regulatory burdens where that won’t compromise the public interest and the protection of consumers.

“So we’re looking at how OFR can be applied in a more proportionate way to different sections of the profession.”

To help small firms, Ms Furniss said the SRA is launching a review of the COLP and COFA arrangements for the sector, appointing a small business appeals champion and limiting requests for accountants’ reports to situations where reports were qualified.

Mr Furniss called on solicitors to tell the regulator when “what we do that doesn’t work” and help us to get regulation to a state “where we can all agree it is proportionate and relevant”.

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