SRA: Profession making progress on diversity – especially at small firms

Diversity: Rise in proportion of female partners over recent years

There is “slow but steady increase in diversity among all lawyers”, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) reported yesterday in its biennial collection of the profession’s diversity data.

This was more evident at smaller firms – for example, while more than a quarter of lawyers who practise on their own are Asian, only 0.49% of equity partners at the biggest law firms, with over 50 partners, are Black.

The figures for the profession as a whole showed a gradual increase in Black, Asian and minority ethnic lawyers from 14% in 2015 to 19% in 2023. White lawyers made up 77%, with 4% preferring not to say.

This compares with 15% of the workforce as a whole in England, Wales and Scotland who are from minority ethnic backgrounds, according to Office for National Statistics figures for 2023.

Minority ethnic lawyers are far better represented in small law firms, making up 39% of lawyers at one-partner firms and 23% in two-to-five partner firms.

The proportion of minority ethnic lawyers then drops sharply to around 15% for all other firms.

At the largest law firms, with 50 plus partners, 4% of equity partners 5% of salaried partners are Asian.

The proportion of Black equity partners is only 0.49%, which the SRA rounded down to 0%, with Black salaried partners accounting for 1% of the total.

Black lawyers make up 3% of all SRA-regulated lawyers. Asian lawyers make up 12%, with a further 3% coming from a mixed/multiple backgrounds, and 1% from a backgrounds referred to as ‘other’.

In Wales the proportion of minority ethnic lawyers is much lower, at only 5%.

In its release of diversity data from 9,276 law firms employing more than 203,000 people in England and Wales, the SRA said the proportion of female lawyers in its firms had reached 53%, from 48% in 2015.

When it comes to full equity partners, less than a third (32%) are female, but when it comes to solicitors, the figure rises to 62%.

If salaried partners are included, the proportion of female partners in the profession has risen to 37% from 32% in 2015.

The proportion of female full equity partners at the largest firms is much lower at 28%, but is higher for salaried partners (41%).

The smallest proportion of female lawyers is in criminal law, at 38%, with corporate law on 47%, property law on 54% and private client on 58%.

Women still make up three quarters (74%) of non-solicitor staff in law firms, a figure unchanged from 2021. In Wales, a higher proportion of lawyers (57%) and partners (41%) are female.

The proportion of disabled lawyers regulated by the SRA increased by one percentage point to 6% this year, way behind the figure of 16% of the UK workforce.

One in five lawyers (21%) went to a fee-paying school, compared to 7.5% nationally, while 57% came from a professional socio-economic background, compared to 37% nationally.

Paul Philip, chief executive of the SRA, commented: “It benefits everyone to have the most talented people from all backgrounds able to work and progress in the legal sector. Things are slowly improving, but there is still more to do.”

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