It’s time for a step-change in boosting socio-economic diversity at senior levels in the profession
I am proud to be the first Asian, the first Muslim, and only the seventh female president of the Law Society in its almost 200-year history.
I am a Northerner, originally from Bradford, and I am from a working-class background.
Social mobility, diversity and inclusion are not just priorities for me, they are the reality I have lived and practised in.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) latest diversity data for law firms shows that 58% of lawyers are from a professional background, compared to 37% nationally – meaning their parents were in professional jobs rather than intermediate or working class.
It is essential that we increase access to the profession for aspiring solicitors from working-class backgrounds.
We also have more to do to remove barriers to progression to senior levels, as a greater proportion of partners attended an independent or fee-paying school compared to solicitors on the whole.
Anyone who has the talent, ambition and capability to join our profession should be welcomed and enabled to progress as far as their drive will take them. Diversity is a strength and an asset; it leads to better decision-making and stronger businesses.
Research on class barriers at senior levels
The City of London was commissioned by the UK government to set up a socio-economic diversity taskforce to improve socio-economic diversity at senior levels in financial and professional services.
The taskforce was launched in November 2020 and concludes now after two years, launching its final report with recommendations. Our immediate past president, I. Stephanie Boyce, was a member of the taskforce.
The taskforce ran an industry-wide consultation on how government, regulators and sector bodies can incentivise employer action.
To gather input from our members into this consultation, last spring we partnered with local law societies to run a total of 10 regional roundtables, including with our social mobility ambassadors, the largest firms and in-house solicitors.
We spoke to over 170 lawyers, from trainee solicitors to managing partners, and diversity and inclusion (D&I) professionals from 113 organisations who told us their views on data collection, setting targets, and what they’d like to see from regulators, us and government.
What needs to change by 2030
We welcome the taskforce’s final report, which has a vision that 50% of senior leaders from the financial and professional services sector must come from a non-professional background by 2030.
To achieve this ambition as a sector, the taskforce has set out a five-point pathway with tangible steps that organisations of any size can take, alongside recommendations for the government, regulators and sector bodies, who will support employers over the next seven years.
The taskforce is calling for employers to progress through the following recommendations, which were backed by our member roundtables, by 2030:
- assign a senior leader responsible for socio-economic diversity
- collect data on employee socio-economic backgrounds within two years (by 2025)
- take action to increase socio-economic diversity at senior levels and monitor what works
- set own targets based on data, considering their specific context, such as starting point, size, location, subsector
- publish data and what interventions have worked
The legal sector is leading on data collection as it is mandatory for law firms regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), and we are pleased that the Law Society and the SRA are featured as case studies for best practice from a sector body and a regulator respectively in this report.
Next steps for our social mobility campaign
The Law Society will be implementing the recommendations aimed at sector bodies, by continuing to work closely with the SRA and the profession on getting the best data, and convene the profession to discuss and share best practice on what works through our existing D&I forums.
In the coming years, we will develop our plans to take forward the recommendations in steps 4 and 5 above on supporting firms to set their own goals for success and to publish their data and activities.
Our consultation roundtables noted the challenges posed by target-setting, but recognised the essential role they can play as a catalyst for change. Members asked for more support to set ambitious, yet realistic targets across diversity characteristics to make them intersectional, and across different levels of seniority.
This is why target-setting will become a focus in the next stages of our social mobility campaign, alongside continuing to support members to publish their data.
These steps are also part of our recently published D&I framework which we are continuing to roll out and embed across the profession. The framework encourages organisations to take a strategic and systematic approach to creating lasting D&I change.
Together we can ensure that the solicitor profession reflects the society we serve.
I want to know more
Visit our social mobility hub for expert resources on boosting social mobility in the solicitors’ profession.