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Increasing diversity on our Council and committees

17 February 2016

Jerry Garvey considers some common misconceptions about the Law Society’s Council and provides three case studies of Council members from diverse backgrounds.


Interested in shaping legal policy? If the answer is yes, we'd like to encourage you to apply for the Law Society's Council or committees, where you'll have the opportunity to influence our policy and strategy - becoming one of the voices of the profession.

The Council currently meets seven times a year to discuss and agree the strategic direction of our work on behalf of our membership. Sitting on Council ensures that you can contribute to our campaigning work on hot topics such as the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, and Brexit. You could also get a say in our strategy for lobbying parliament on access to justice and law reform.

Lucy Scott Moncrieff, former president of the Law Society, was a vocal advocate of the need for Council to be more representative of the profession. In an article for the Law Society Gazette she states that 'a Council which more closely resembles the profession it represents is more likely to ensure that the Law Society remains focused on the needs and aspirations of the whole profession'.

She also considers why so few people stand for Council and looks at some of the common misconceptions. 

These are:

  • Council doesn't discuss anything relevant to me
  • They're not interested in people like me
  • I wouldn't have time to go to all the endless meetings

Read our FAQs page to find out why these aren't true

Achieving diversity

The solicitors' profession has made positive strides in promoting greater diversity and inclusion. Women constitute nearly half of the profession. Black and minority ethnic (BAME) solicitors make up 13 per cent of the profession. Approximately four per cent are solicitors with disabilities, and 2.2 per cent of members define as LGBT. 

Firms that stand out

  • Herbert Smith Freehills, CMS Cameron McKenna and Berwin Leighton Paisner are the only three law firms in the UK top 20 with female partners currently in senior leadership roles.
  • Bird & Bird was recognised as one of the most female-friendly UK firms last year; in the US, Baker & McKensie, DLA Piper and Hogan Lovells made the list, according to WorkingMother.com (PDF).  
  • Simmons and Simmons ranks as one of Stonewall's 'Star Performers' (PDF) - companies who repeatedly demonstrated their commitment to creating inclusive workplaces.
  • Law firms in general rate highly in Stonewall's workplace equality index, with Clifford Chance, Baker & Mckensie, Freshfields, Norton Rose Fulbright, and Herbert Smith Freehills featured in the top 50. 
  • In recent years, Reed Smith, TLT, and Clifford Chance have all won the Law Society's Excellence Award in Diversity and Inclusion. 

What we're doing

Unfortunately the Law Society Council and committees - the key decision making body and mechanisms - have not kept pace with the changing diverse face of the profession. Less than one-third of Council are women; only six per cent of Council members are from BAME backgrounds. For committees, the figures are lower. Younger solicitors are also under-represented, with those under the age of 35 accounting for around 35 per cent of the profession and five per cent of Council. We want to change this.

We have scheduled some free events (see box, below) to explain what's involved, and to raise awareness of these opportunities and inform you how you can play an important role as part of our volunteer community. We also have specialist divisions dedicated to our minority communities - have a look on our communities page.

Top tips on how to become a volunteer

1. Apply! Read our guide to Council nominations.

2. Get involved in your local law society. See Infolaw's list of local law societies.

3. Contact the Law Society Governance team at committee.recruitment@lawsociety.org.uk if you have any questions about the application process.

4. Follow our Council members on Twitter to see what they're up to.

5. Contact your local Council member to have a chat about their role.

Council member case studies

Sarah Austin, Women Lawyers Division

I was admitted to the Roll in 1996 after a career in investment banking. I gained a degree in business administration before studying law at Guildhall University, London. I represented the Association of Women Solicitors (AWS) on Council after several years serving on their national committee. I am the principal of Austins in Chiswick, where my interests include small business, probate and caring for the elderly. 

Visit the Women Lawyers Division website

Sundeep Bhatia, Ethnic Minorities

I am the proprietor of Beaumonde Law Practice in Eastcote, Middlesex, where I specialise in employment law. I am also an accredited mediator, a solicitor advocate with Higher Rights (criminal) and a duty solicitor. In 2010 I took up a vacant seat for the BAME (Black Asian Minority Ethnic) constituency on the Law Society Council and was re-elected to that seat in 2013. I sit on several Law Society committees and boards, including the Equality and Diversity Committee, the Employment Law Committee and the Regulatory Affairs Board. I recently established a pressure group, Asian Lawyers GB, to highlight issues effecting BME lawyers as well as the communities they serve.

Visit the Ethnic Minority Lawyers Division website

David Merkel, Lawyers with Disabilities Division

I qualified as a solicitor in 1976. I worked in local government until 2000, specialising in statutory enforcement, mainly in environmental health. I am now an accredited higher education teacher, running courses in witness training and criminal procedure at universities for the army and other organisations in the UK. I was the chair of the LDD between 2008 and 2014 and remain an LDD Council member.

Visit the Lawyers with Disabilities Division website

 

Sign up for our free webinar: Increasing diversity in the volunteer community (23 February)

Attend our free event: Encouraging more diversity among the Law Society's council and committees (22 March)

Tags: equality | represent | leadership | diversity and inclusion

About the author

Jerry Garvey is the membership development executive for the Law Society's  Diversity & Inclusion team. His work centres around supporting and promoting the interests of our BAME members.
Follow the Diversity & Inclusion team on Twitter 

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