Diversity and inclusion

Diversity Profile of the Solicitors’ Profession 2019

This report summarises the latest data and insights on diversity in the solicitors' profession, including data on all the protected characteristics and socio-economic background.

The report provides a benchmark set of information for the profession allowing an objective assessment of where problems lie and progress being made in creating a more diverse and inclusive profession.

Key findings

Evidence in the report demonstrates the progress made over time and highlights key ongoing issues including:

Under-representation of women and black, Asian and minority ethnic lawyers at senior level

  • The proportion of women solicitors working in private practice increased to 49% in 2019, but the proportion of private practice partners that are women was 31%
  • Just 18% of women in private practice are partners compared to 40% of men
  • 35% of white private practice solicitors were partners compared to 25% of BAME solicitors

Difficulties accessing and progressing in the profession for those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds

  • The majority (63%) of solicitors’ parents were in occupations classified as professional rather than intermediate or working class, compared with 34% in the general population. The highest parental qualification for nearly half (48%) of solicitors was degree level or above
  • Solicitors were considerably more likely to have attended independent/fee-paying schools than society in general (23% compared to 7% respectively), although the proportion is lower amongst solicitors admitted more recently

The concentration of women, black, Asian and minority ethnic, and disabled lawyers in in-house legal departments or smaller firms (suggesting ongoing barriers in larger firms)

  • Women make up 68% of solicitors working in central and local government, and an above average share (56%) in other in-house roles
  • 36% of sole practitioners and 22% of partners in two- to four-partner firms are from BAME backgrounds, compared to 6.5% of partners in the largest firms (81+ partners)
  • Disabled solicitors working in private practice were more likely to be employed in small firms (13% disabled) than in medium (7%) or large (6%) firms

Increased likelihood of experiencing bullying or harassment for disabled, LGBT+, and black, Asian and minority ethnic individuals, and women

  • Six in ten (60%) disabled solicitors/paralegals had experienced ill-treatment in the workplace and of these 80% believed it was related to disability
  • BAME solicitors were more likely to have experienced adverse discrimination (13%) and bullying (16%) than their white counterparts (8% and 13% respectively)
  • Around one fifth (22%) of all LGBT+ workers experienced negative reactions in the workplace to being LGBT+
  • A third of women legal professionals in Western Europe had experienced sexual harassment at some point in their careers

Our view

The evidence contained in this report provides key benchmarks against which we can measure progress on diversity issues in the solicitors' profession. Use of such evidence is crucial to help prioritise and design diversity initiatives and influencing for greatest impact. We need to build on progress already made and ensure the profession can maximise the potential of available talent.

How this report can help you

Solicitor firms and other organisations in which solicitors work can use the data contained in the report to reflect on their own diversity profiles.

The wide range of research studies cited will also be of interest to leaders and HR professionals to inform their own thinking and strategies to build inclusive cultures within their firms and organisations.

What we’re doing next

In 2021, ‘Creating a modern, diverse and inclusive profession’ is a priority theme in our business plan, and we look forward over the coming year to working more closely with member firms, in-house legal departments, other legal businesses and individuals, to gain further insights, understand what is working, and spread learning across the profession.

All of this work is part of our commitment to help the legal profession to be inclusive, responsive to all sections of society, and good employers recruiting and developing diverse talent and allocating work opportunities in a more equitable way.

Resources

Our Ethnic Minority Lawyers Division – supports and promotes solicitors and their allies by providing career-enhancing events, information and networking opportunities.

Our Lawyers with Disabilities Division – promotes equal opportunities for disabled people within the legal profession.

Our LGBT+ Lawyers Division – the community for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT+) lawyers and our allies.

Our Women Lawyers Division – promotes inclusion in the legal profession, reflects the diversity of our society, and celebrates the achievements of women solicitors.

Annual Statistics Report 2019 – our Annual Statistics Report has been compiled for over 30 years and provides a comprehensive picture of how the size and structure of the solicitors’ profession has evolved.

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