The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is to encourage large law firms to start reporting their ethnicity pay gap alongside the requirement to publish their gender pay gap.
The regulator also plans to introduce ‘exit questionnaires’ for solicitors leaving the profession to find out if there were diversity related reasons.
A newly published paper on the SRA’s next steps on diversity, seen by its board last month, acknowledged the “commitment and leadership” many of the larger firms had shown in pursuing diversity initiatives – but nonetheless “some of the greatest challenges to diversity and inclusion in the profession are be found in the largest law firms”.
This included significant under-representation of Black and Asian partners, slow progress for women at partnership level, continued underrepresentation of disabled lawyers and over-representation of lawyers from more privileged backgrounds.
“The patterns we see in our data and this research suggest a greater focus is needed on the barriers to retention and progression in the larger firms.”
The SRA said it would work with organisations such as the City of London Law Society and the firms themselves to “understand the types of actions that have the potential to drive progress” and work collaboratively to “explore the potential for expanding the reporting and publishing requirements for larger firms”.
This could include “additional, more nuanced data and a narrative to highlight the actions they are taking”.
Since 2017. all businesses with 250 staff or more have had to publish gender pay gap information.
The SRA said that although the pace of change in the legal sector on the gender pay gap had been slow, there was evidence that reporting could make a difference.
Ethnicity pay gap reporting is not yet compulsory but there was “support for publishing this data on a voluntary basis”, with guidance available from a range of sources, including the Law Society.
The SRA said it was exploring publishing its own data this year and would work with the Law Society to “encourage consistent pay gap reporting by the larger firms, including for ethnicity”.
The minutes of the meeting said the board agreed that the “priority was to take forward work on exploring the idea of ethnicity pay gap reporting, perhaps starting with the SRA first”.
The regulator said it would also explore “the impact of setting aspirational diversity targets for ourselves, a practice adopted by a number of the larger law firms”.
A proportion of the solicitors who chose to come off the roll or not renew their practising certificate would be asked to complete exit questionnaires, “to establish whether their reasons have a diversity related component”.
The SRA said it would also “continue to be transparent” about the over-representation of men and solicitors from a Black, Asian and minority ethnic background in its enforcement processes.
A research partner was being chosen to look at these issues, “focusing on the sociological factors that drive this over-representation, and how the structure of the legal sector may contribute to this.
The minutes said the board approved the diversity work programme, with a “sharp focus on retention and progression in large firms and leading by example”.
A Law Society analysis of law firm gender pay gap reporting found last year that women in the largest law firms earn a fifth less than men on average, and the gender pay gap is 50% wider than for businesses nationally.