New research sheds light on experiences of Black, Asian and minority ethnic solicitors

New research released today by the Law Society of England and Wales sheds light on the experiences of Black, Asian and minority ethnic solicitors in the law and indicates how we can build a more inclusive profession.

“George Floyd’s death and the Black Lives Matter protests shone a light on the racial inequalities and injustices that persist around the world. The movement has undoubtedly increased the focus on these issues in the legal profession and provided a much-needed opportunity for reflection,” said Law Society president David Greene.

“The law can offer an incredibly fulfilling, varied career and diversity in the profession has continued to grow, but like every sector we need to have some frank conversations. To address these issues properly, we must base our work on facts and on data. This research is intended to provide that basis for our future work to ensure a diverse and inclusive profession.

“In the solicitors’ profession, 17.5% of practising certificate (PC) holders come from Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups. This is higher than the national average of 14.1% of the wider working population but 10% of this number is made up of Asian solicitors while only 3% of the profession identify as Black.

“Black, Asian and minority ethnic solicitors are also underrepresented in larger firms, especially at partner level, and earn approximately £20,000 less annual salary a year.*

“It is important to recognise that although ‘BAME’ is widely used, it is not always a helpful term as people from different minority ethnic groups often have different experiences and challenges.**

“We held roundtables with solicitors from Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups, HR professionals and recruiters from across England and Wales to discuss the barriers experienced by different ethnic minorities at every step of their career and consider how the legal profession can achieve full racial equality and inclusion.”

Key findings

There is a clear disparity in representation across different firm types:

  • in small firms, almost a quarter of all solicitors are from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds but just one in 10 solicitors are from a Black, Asian or minority ethnic background in the largest firms
  • solicitors from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds are twice as likely to be sole practitioners

Black, Asian and minority ethnic partners are also much more likely to be working in smaller firms:

  • just 8% of partners in the largest firms (50+ partners) are from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds and this has only risen by 1% since 2014
  • 34% of partners in single partner firms are from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds

Representation in the profession:

  • although 17.5% of the profession identify as Black, Asian or minority ethnic, 10% identify as Asian solicitors while only 3% of the profession identify as Black

Reports of stress are higher:

  • 24% of Black, Asian and minority ethnic respondents reported severe or extreme stress compared to 18% of White solicitors

The ethnicity pay gap:

  • Black, Asian and minority ethnic solicitors are working an average of 1.5 hours more per full-time week and 0.9 hours more part-time than their White counterparts
  • however, the average salary for White solicitors is £36.13 per hour compared to £27.01 per hour for Black, Asian and minority ethnic solicitors – a difference of £9.12 per hour
  • this represents a 25% pay gap between the earnings of full-time White and Black, Asian and minority ethnic solicitors

Reports of discrimination and bullying in the workplace:

  • adverse discrimination was reported by 13% of Black, Asian and minority ethnic solicitors and 16% reported bullying
  • a third of Black African and Caribbean solicitors say they have experienced some form of discrimination or bullying in the workplace – the highest figure reported by any ethnic group

David Greene added: “Our research shows that there are barriers for Black, Asian and minority ethnic practitioners at every step of their career – including the ethnicity pay gap, microaggressions and the need to fit a certain culture to progress.

“This often results in Black, Asian and minority ethnic solicitors voting with their feet and moving to in-house roles or to become sole practitioners because of barriers to progression and to reaching partnership in larger firms.

“Our survey contains clear recommendations for firms – such as having open, honest conversations about race and what needs to change in their organisation, blind and contextualised recruitment, set targets for senior leaders and at key points in the pipeline, and a data-driven approach to diversity and inclusion.

“Now is the time to act to build a more inclusive profession. We hope our research and recommendations will give firms and legal businesses important food for thought and a much-needed blueprint for driving equality and inclusion up to the most senior levels.

“The legal sector stands for access to justice, equality for all and the rule of law. We must ensure that our profession is at the forefront of the fight against racism and reflects the diversity of the society it represents.”

Notes to editors

*All statistics in this press release our taken from our report Race for inclusion: The experiences of Black, Asian and minority ethnic solicitors

**We recognise that use of the label ‘BAME’ can be problematic. It suggests people from very different ethnic backgrounds form a single homogenous group when this is clearly not the case. We use the phrase ‘Black, Asian and minority ethnic’ because it reflects the categories in which external data has been collected but we recommend that the profession needs more nuanced approaches and better data collection to allow for more detailed analysis in future.

About the Law Society

The Law Society is the independent professional body that works globally to support and represent solicitors, promoting the highest professional standards, the public interest and the rule of law.

Press office contact: Emma Clarke | 020 8049 3743

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