During the end of 2009 and in the first half of 2010 the Law Society undertook three separate studies in order to understand the issues and barriers faced by some groups within the legal sector. The similarity of experience is striking which is why we have chosen to publish them together. The studies covered:
- black and minority ethnic (BME) solicitors
- lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) solicitors, and
- women solicitors.
The LGB study was carried out in partnership with the Interlaw Diversity Forum and the women's study was carried out in conjunction with Association of Women Solicitors.
Ethnic diversity in law firms — understanding the barriers
The study of BME solicitors highlighted a need for better information prior to qualifying as a solicitor to enable those interested in being a lawyer to understand 'hidden' criteria such as activities outside of formal education that employers find attractive and to understand the importance of choosing a specialism.
Read the BME solicitors report (PDF 426kb)
The career experience of LGB solicitors
The study of LGB solicitors revealed that statements of openness often lapsed in reality and respondents cited difficulties in bringing LGB partners to social events where other members of the firm would normally bring along partners. The respondents clearly detailed how visible senior LGB role models within a firm help to tackle discrimination and the fear of being discriminated against.
Read the LGB solicitors report (PDF 167kb)
Obstacles and barriers to the career development of woman solicitors
The survey of women solicitors conducted during March 2010 revealed that organisational culture, outdated perceptions of women, resistance to contemporary management practices such as flexible working, and perceptions of client expectations meant the legal sector was still very male dominated, causing real issues for the retention and advancement of top female talent.
Read the women solicitors report (PDF 149kb)
Overview of findings
Although the reports highlight a number of issues specific to each group there are also a number of themes running across all three which highlight the need to address issues around equality and diversity more broadly within the legal sector. The reports highlight the clear need for visible role models, mentors and coaches at senior levels within firms to provide the confidence to pursue, and the ability to successfully navigate obstacles to career development. Law practices need to address the barriers highlighted if they are to realise the full potential of their workforces.
The findings also highlight the key role the Law Society plays in being an agent for change, supporting law practices in addressing the lack of clarity and transparency in success measures; pay and remuneration criteria; pushing members to adopt more inclusive management practices and empowering individual solicitors through workshops; training; and reporting mechanisms around discriminatory practices.
The reports find, that while much has improved in the legal sector for LGB, women and BME solicitors, there remains a pressing need to address fundamental inequalities inherent in the current career path structure of the legal sector.