State-school education solicitors are far more likely to operate in criminal law than corporate, new figures published by the Solicitors Regulation Authority have shown.
The regulator found that firms which mainly did corporate law had the lowest proportion of state-educated solicitors at 56%.
However, three-quarters of solicitors in firms doing mainly criminal and litigation work were state educated (77% and 76% respectively).
The figures come from last year’s diversity survey of the profession, covering 180,000 people working at 9,000 law firms across England and Wales – and about 70% of all practising solicitors. Some 92% of firms completed the survey.
It is the third of its kind, following those of 2014 and 2015, and so the recognised trends about increasing numbers of women and those from a black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) background continued to show.
The SRA data found that 48% half of all lawyers (including barristers and chartered legal executives) were women and one in five (21%) BAME.
At a more senior level, one-third (33%) of partners were women, although it was 29% for firms of 50 or more partners – but again, these figures were both on the up, from 31% and 25% respectively in 2014.
The highest concentration of women was found in firms of six to nine partners, where two-thirds of the solicitors were women and 37% of the partners.
The number of BAME solicitors has risen sharply in a short period of time, from 14% in 2014 to 21% last year, significantly higher than the figure for the UK working population as a whole. The SRA attributed this “largely due to the rise in Asian lawyers in the profession” in that time.
Some 20% of BAME solicitors were partners, but this fluctuated between 8% at firms with 50 or more partners, to 34% of sole practitioners.
In terms of practices areas, there were similar trends to women. Firms mainly doing criminal work and those mainly doing private client work both had a higher proportion of BAME lawyers, 33% and 37% respectively.
Firms doing a mixed range of work (12%) and mainly corporate work (19%) had the lowest proportion.
Just 3% of solicitors describe themselves as disabled, which is significantly below the government’s 10% estimate for the wider UK workforce.
Some 3% identified as being lesbian, gay or bisexual, compared to 2% of the general population, although Stonewall estimates that it is actually 5-7%.
Further findings included that 51% of all lawyers said they were Christian – down from 57% in 2014 – and 30% had no religion or belief. The next largest faith group was Muslim, up from 5% in 2014 to 8% in 2017.
A third of all solicitors have primary child-caring responsibilities, and 2% of solicitors said their gender identity was different to that assigned to them at birth – the first time the SRA has gathered transgender data.
The SRA has also published a paper on the business case for diversity.
Chief executive Paul Philip said: “I know we will all welcome the progress that is clearly being made in many areas.
“But there is much more to do to achieve a truly diverse profession that reflects the community it serves, encourages people to access the legal services they need and offers opportunities for the brightest and best from every background.
“The changes we are making to the training of solicitors, the growing and varied initiatives in the sector to support people into the profession and the leadership shown by many firms will all help.
“Our new report on the benefits of diversity makes it clear that diversity is good for business and well as for the public, the profession and wider society. I think the report will help law firms to consider what more they can do to realise those business benefits, as well as doing the right thing.”
A comparison tool is available on the SRA’s website which allows firms to benchmark how they compare to similar firms in the profession.