Firms and chambers set for obligation to publish staff diversity data from next year

Diversity: law firms need to take responsibility, says LSB

The Legal Services Board (LSB) is pushing ahead with plans to require law firms and chambers to publish compre-hensive diversity and class information about their staff from next year, Legal Futures has learned.

Papers released following a Freedom of Information Act request said this would encompass the seven diversity strands – age, disability, gender, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation and working patterns – plus social mobility.

It would also look beyond some of the broad categories – for example, an apparently good level of representation in relation to black and minority ethnic (BME) lawyers “may mask under-representation of a particular ethnic group”.

If these measures are approved by the LSB’s main board, regulated entities across the legal sector would be required to ask all legal and non-legal staff to complete a diversity monitoring questionnaire. Firms and chambers would then be required to publish the results, including the response rate, broken down by level of seniority, as well as provide it to their regulator.

The LSB hopes this will drive legal practices “to improve performance” on having a diverse staff. “Transparency and accountability can make change consumer driven,” a report produced for the June meeting of the board said. “Even if this is currently primarily corporate consumers, there is the potential for individual consumers and potential recruits to use this data to inform choices if there was widespread availability.”

The report explained: “By putting the onus on the entity to collect and publish data, we will make the entity accountable for what they decide and deliver. It is the firm or chambers that recruits the workforce, establishes the culture, trains and promotes employees and allocates work; it is therefore the firm or chambers that is best placed to drive change.”

It said the results would also provide evidence for regulators and others to identify priority areas for action, provide a baseline against which to evaluate the effectiveness of diversity initiatives and enable broader policy changes to be assessed more effectively in relation to their equality impact.

The report said the Equality and Human Rights Commission supports the proposed approach “and considers that we are at the forefront of addressing equality and diversity challenges when compared with action being taken in other sectors. The Black Solicitors Network is also likely to provide public backing”.

The board’s thinking was first revealed in a speech by LSB chief executive Chris Kenny in July (see story), which generated some negative responses from solicitors. The report acknowledged that the issue “will need careful handling to ensure that we build support for transparency without creating a perception that we are imposing unnecessary regulatory burdens (particularly as there is a renewed focus on reducing regulation by the new government)”.

The proposed timetable is for the LSB to issue guidance to the approved regulators in February 2011, which it anticipates will take the regulators approximately six months to implement. Firms are chambers are likely to begin collecting and publishing data in autumn 2011, with aggregate data available to the LSB about the whole profession in mid-2012.


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