Experience, not race, is key indicator of risk of regulatory action, says SRA report

Townsend: first detailed picture of disproportionality issues

Experience is a greater predictor of whether solicitors will face regulatory action, not race, an in-depth study has concluded.

However, research commissioned by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) into figures which found that black and minority ethnic (BME) solicitors were over-represented in its regulatory decisions and outcomes, said that in some situations SRA processes compounded the level of disproportionality experienced by BME solicitors.

To the surprise of business psychologists Pearn Kandola, who conducted the research, no disproportionality in relation to BME solicitors was found when looking at all solicitors on the roll, although this could be because of the relatively recent influx of BME solicitors into the profession. When the analysis was restricted to solicitors admitted in the last 10 years, Pearn Kandola found disproportionality.

Trainee and newly qualified solicitors, as well as those with a large number of practising certificates were the most likely groups to have a case raised against them by the SRA. The former finding indicated that “further support and supervision is required at these early career stages”, the report said, while it was not clear why experienced solicitors were also more likely to face action.

It said this could be simply because there is an increased likelihood of having a case raised against a solicitor who has more practising certificates, or because their performance declines as they continue to practise, or because those raising the cases are more likely to attribute what they perceive as poor performance to the solicitor being older, and therefore make a complaint.

The report concluded that “whilst BME solicitors have a disproportionate number of cases raised against them, it is not their ethnicity that directly contributes to this. Instead, other factors, such as the number of years a solicitor has been practising and the number of PCs they have held, are more likely to predict whether a case is raised”.

Another factor could be that BME solicitors tend to work in smaller firms, which generate more regulatory activity, it added.

Pearn Kandola said the disproportionality starts before a case reaches the SRA, in that BME solicitors are more likely to be the subject of complaints or intelligence in the first place. The SRA’s consideration of cases adds to the original disproportionality in certain types of decisions (such as a greater number of BME solicitors are referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal), is neutral in others, and in some areas reduces it (for example, the SRA takes no action in a disproportionately high number of conduct cases involving BME solicitors).

Pearn Kandola noted that few professional regulators are tackling this issue. Its recommendations included collecting more data about complainants, reviewing decision-making, reviewing processes to monitor the support firms provide to trainees and solicitors, and reviewing how effectively the SRA controls the ongoing accreditation of solicitors. The SRA has accepted 14 of the report’s 16 recommendations, and provided clear reasons why it is practically unable to accept the other two.

The report also recommended regular monitoring of data about solicitors who qualify via the qualified lawyer transfer route, after finding that a disproportionate number of cases are raised against solicitors who first qualified in specific jurisdictions, namely Nigeria, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Bar of England and Wales.

SRA chief executive Antony Townsend said: “The SRA is firmly committed to acting fairly and valuing equality and diversity. For the first time, we have a detailed picture of where the disproportionately high involvement of BME solicitors in our work is arising, identifying the external and internal factors. This has enabled us to draw up and publish our action plan, which we shall pursue in co-operation with equality groups in the profession.”


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