1.1 Who should read this practice note?
All SRA-regulated practices and individuals in SRA-regulated practices.
1.2 What is the issue?
In 2011, the Legal Services Board (LSB) published statutory guidance (PDF 462kb) setting out its expectations of approved regulators in measuring levels of diversity and social mobility in the legal workforce.
As a result, practices regulated by the SRA – including sole practitioners, recognised bodies and alternative business structures – are required to collect annually, report and publish data on the diversity of their workforce. These requirements do not apply to regulated individuals working for in-house practices or other bodies currently not regulated by the SRA.
The SRA has published guidance and Q&As, which can be found here. The aim of this practice note is to:
- briefly set out the rationale for these requirements, and
- highlight the key points for practices and individuals
2 Equality Act 2010
The Equality Act 2010 ('the Act') provides a legislative framework to protect the rights of individuals and advance equality of opportunity for all.
Solicitors have duties as service providers and employers under the Act. Our practice note on the Act sets out these duties and aims to provide you, and all staff concerned with the management and day-to-day running of your practice, with an understanding of your duties towards staff and clients under the Act.
Non-statutory guidance has been produced by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which is intended to assist employers and service providers in understanding and complying with the Act.
The SRA requirements are in addition to, and not in substitution for, your obligations to comply with the Act.
3 Legal Services Board requirement
In 2011, the Legal Services Board (LSB) issued guidance under Section 162 of the Legal Services Act 2007. The full version of this guidance, 'Increasing diversity and social mobility in the legal workforce: transparency and evidence' (PDF 462kb) is available via the LSB website.
The LSB states that it, and approved regulators, have an objective under the Legal Services Act 2007 to encourage an independent, strong, diverse and effective legal profession. The LSB's guidance is in response to this objective.
There are two primary objectives of the LSB's guidance:
- that approved regulators should collect diversity data; and
- that it should be published at aggregate and practice level.
The Law Society supports the collection of equality and diversity data to assist us in making informed policy decisions, to help us to understand the make up of our membership and to assist in the provision of suitable support, guidance and best practice tools.
4 SRA requirements to collect, report and publish
Each practice must collect, publish and report its workforce diversity data to the SRA.
The SRA provides guidance for practices on how to collect diversity data and a Word version of the SRA's 2012 diversity questionnaire is available for practices to adapt for their own use.
Practices must publish a summary of their workforce diversity data. Your practice may publish this on your practice’s website or, if you do not have a website, you may post a notice in reception informing individuals that a copy of the workforce diversity data is available upon request.
4.1 Who does this apply to?
This requirement applies to all practices regulated by the SRA, including sole practitioners, recognised bodies and alternative business structures. It does not apply to regulated individuals working for in-house practices or other bodies currently not regulated by the SRA.
Everyone in a practice should be included in the workforce diversity data collection exercise, including owners and all qualified and non qualified staff. More information can be found in the SRA's guidance.
The practice's management must ensure that each individual has the opportunity to complete the diversity data collection exercise. Responsibility for ensuring that the correct processes are in place will likely fall to the compliance officer for legal practice (COLP) or compliance officer for finance and administration (COFA).
4.2 Collecting data
The SRA has published guidance for practices in compiling the diversity questionnaire which sets out the data that practices must collect. The SRA will only accept the data from practices in a format which is consistent with the diversity questionnaire so it is important to review this guidance.
Although individuals must be given the opportunity to provide their diversity data, they are not under any legal or regulatory obligation to complete a diversity monitoring questionnaire. For each of the categories in the questionnaire, there are categories for individuals to select a ‘prefer not to say' option.
The SRA expects practices to encourage their staff to complete the questionnaire. It is good practice to encourage, and to remind staff, about this exercise.
As this will involve the collection of sensitive personal data, practices must consider its security. For more information on data protection, please visit the Information Commissioner's Office website.
4.3 Reporting data
Practices must report their data online to the SRA and should have arrangements in place to collect data in good time to meet this deadline (refer to the SRA's website for information on deadlines).
4.4 Publishing data
In addition to collecting and reporting data, practices will be required to publish a summary of their data.
The diversity categories of sexual orientation and religion or belief are exempt from this requirement to publish.
Practices must ensure that they comply with data protection legislation.
Practices must ensure that they comply with data protection legislation. This means that data must not be published in a way that allows the identification of any individual.
This may mean that sole practitioners and smaller practices find that they cannot publish their workforce diversity data without the risk of identification. In such circumstances, the SRA will not expect them to publish their diversity data.
5 How the Law Society can help your practice to comply
5.1 Diversity and Inclusion Charter
The Law Society Diversity and Inclusion Charter is the flagship diversity initiative of the legal profession.
The Charter is a public commitment by providers of legal services, regardless of practice size, to develop and implement best practice in equality, diversity and inclusion - as employers, as providers of legal services, as purchasers of goods and services and in their wider roles in society.
The Charter lists activities to assist practices in meeting the outcomes in chapter 2 of the SRA Code, and are presented against the following eight categories:
1. Leadership and vision
2. Employment and staff development
3. Provision of legal services
Engagement with staff, clients and community
Policy making and development
Monitoring and review
Procurement and supplier diversity
Sharing good practice
Membership of the Diversity and Inclusion Charter is voluntary. Signatory practices sign up to a set of commitments and Charter membership also includes a number of best practice toolkits, events, workshops, webinars and forums to enable members to develop robust equality and diversity practices.
The Charter is accompanied by a set of protocols on reporting and monitoring, flexible working and legal procurement designed to help signatories meet their Charter commitments.
The reporting and monitoring protocol helps signatories to collect and record the diversity statistics of their workforce. Practices can access the protocol and its accompanying checklists and practical toolkits through the Diversity and Charter reporting tool once they have signed up to the Charter.
6 More information
6.1 SRA guidance
SRA guidance and FAQs can be found on their website.
6.2 Practice advice service
The Law Society provides support for solicitors on a wide range of areas of practice. Practice Advice can be contacted on 020 7320 5675 from 09:00 to 17:00 on weekdays or email firstname.lastname@example.org
6.3 Law Society Consulting
If you require further support, Law Society Consulting can help. We offer expert and confidential support and guidance, including face-to-face consultancy on risk and compliance. Please contact us on 020 7316 5655, or email email@example.com.
Find out more about our consultancy services
6.4 Equality and Diversity Section
An equality and diversity network specifically for legal practices in England and Wales. It offers essential support for practices that recognise the business imperative to become diverse and accessible. Join today.
Solicitors Regulation Authority's Professional Ethics Helpline offers advice on conduct issues.