The chief executive of the Legal Services Board (LSB) has issued a robust defence of its plans to require every firm and chambers to carry out and publish an annual workforce diversity survey.
Chris Kenny confirmed that the LSB was not talking about imposing quotas or targets, nor publishing a sector-wide league table, but said such information “will enable individuals and researchers to better hold firms to account through highlighting the best and worst performers – and the nature of the gap between them”.
Speaking at a conference organised by the Society of Black Lawyers and National Union of Students, he said: “Above all, it will enable both corporate and individual consumers to make informed choices about where they procure their legal services – creating a commercial incentive for that step change to happen.”
Mr Kenny said transparency at the level of law firms and chambers provides “a really powerful incentive for leaders within those organisations to look in the mirror, compare themselves with their peers and be challenged, inspired – or perhaps even embarrassed – into taking action”.
As first reported on Legal Futures (see story), the diversity survey would cover gender, race, age, disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, religion or belief, sexual orientation, and socio-economic background.
“This is not burdensome stuff,” Mr Kenny said. “I must say, to give credit where it is due, that some City firms are already doing this, demonstrating that it is eminently deliverable. We’ve done it ourselves. As an organisation of 33 people with a board of nine, we went from deciding to do the survey to having the results in three weeks flat and got a response rate of 79% . We’ll be publishing this data on our website shortly.”
Mr Kenny said that while there is a law firm or chambers cannot solve the issue of diversity in the profession, “it doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t do anything”. He continued: “Findings from our research demonstrate with immense clarity that structural factors and the cultural ethos within firms each play a crucial role in improving retention and progression rates. Each of these factors is directly within the control of the individual business – and so the responsibility, and the opportunity, lies with them too.”
He said greater transparency about the diversity make-up of the profession at firm level will deliver four main impacts:
- It will drive behaviour by regulated entities to improve performance;
- It will provide evidence for regulators and others to identify priorities for action, whilst helping them target resources more effectively through better understanding of the problem;
- It will set a baseline for evaluation of current diversity initiatives; and
- It will enable the regulators to evaluate wider policy changes more effectively in relation to their impact on equality.
Mr Kenny said diversity was not just about “making sure the workforce is genuinely open to the widest pool of talent”, but about “making the law work better for a diverse society”. He added that the “trickle up” effect of large numbers of women and minority lawyers entering the profession “is not happening at the pace which the numbers would lead you to expect” and so cannot be relied upon.
As well as improving transparency, Mr Kenny said the LSB also aims to “step up the debate to make the issue central” and build the evidence base (see story).