Race for inclusion: the experiences of Black, Asian and minority ethnic solicitors

During 2020 the Ethnic Minority Lawyers Division (EMLD) has been working with us on research to understand the experiences of Black and ethnic minority solicitors at different points in their careers.

Through desk research, an exploration of the data and a series of virtual roundtable discussions with solicitors and recruiters, we've identified and examined challenges around key career stages.

Key findings

  • Many organisations are doing work around workforce diversity, but change is coming too slowly or not at all in many areas, and more needs to be done
  • Focusing just on overall representation in the profession can be misleading, and a more nuanced perspective is needed looking at the experiences of different ethnic groups, across different parts of the profession. Not all groups are faring equally well
  • There are specific barriers to entry to the profession for some Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups including a lack of role models and connections in the profession
  • The culture of law firms, particularly larger city firms, is not felt to be inclusive
  • Almost all participants in the research had experienced some level of microaggression based on their ethnicity, including comments about their name or about their presumed culture. It is considered difficult to raise the topic of racism and racial disparities in the workplace
  • Black, Asian and ethnic minority solicitors report lower levels of workplace wellbeing compared to White solicitors. The feeling of having no voice has led many to struggle with their mental health, paying for counselling or taking a break from the profession
  • Retention rates for Black, Asian and ethnic minority solicitors are lower in larger City firms than for their White peers, with many leaving to join smaller firms, or parts of the legal sector that are seen as being more inclusive, such as in-house legal departments
  • Black, Asian and minority ethnic solicitors see slower career development up to and including partner status, again impacting on retention rates, and there is a significant ethnicity pay gap
  • Representation at partner level is poor, particularly in the larger City firms. This has not improved significantly over the years, despite improvements in representation at junior levels

This research was overseen by an advisory group consisting of EMLD members, ethnic minority lawyers and academics. We would like to thank the advisory group, thought leaders and the roundtable participants for contributing to the report.

Our recommendations

Entry to the profession

  • Measure entry level representation and breakdown data for groups within the BAME category
  • Set targets if intake is not representative for some groups (for example, Black solicitors)
  • Focus outreach, paid work experience and internships on people who face the greatest barriers (for example, because of socio-economic background)
  • Audit recruitment standards and advertising for bias, demand diverse shortlists, and ensure recruiters are diverse and trained in avoiding bias
  • Use fair recruitment practices such as blind shortlisting or contextualised recruitment

Retention, development and progression

  • Monitor representation, retention and progression for different BAME groups
  • Set targets for senior partners/leaders and for key points in the pipeline
  • Provide structured mentoring programmes so BAME/all solicitors can easily establish mentoring relationships
  • Monitor work allocation to ensure more equitable distribution of development opportunities
  • Put in place a more systematic approach to partner selection

Focus on inclusion

  • Encourage and lead conversations about race, and have a senior level sponsor for race inclusion
  • Use reverse and reciprocal mentoring to develop more inclusive leaders
  • Provide diversity training – ideally face-to-face and impactful – including on allyship
  • Ensure confidential ways of reporting racism, bullying and harassment, and microaggressions so staff feel safe speaking up
  • Include questions in staff surveys to assess inclusion and wellbeing, and analyse results by ethnicity
  • Ensure culturally diverse and inclusive corporate and staff events

Data and evaluation

  • Address any gaps in ethnicity data and improve response rates by being clear about how data will be used
  • Take a data-driven approach to diversity and inclusion (D&I), use metrics to identify problem areas and design interventions
  • Publish key metrics such as the ethnicity pay gap and representation in workforce and at senior levels
  • Evaluate D&I interventions to learn what works and what further action is needed

How this report can help you

By having a clear understanding of the issues for Black, Asian and minority ethnic colleagues in the profession around career stages, organisations and individuals can take steps to improve workplace culture, ensuring that processes and policies are inclusive, meeting the needs of a modern and diverse legal profession.

Resources

Diversity toolkit 

Becoming an inclusion ally

A guide to race and ethnicity terminology and language

Achieving Change Together: empowering and supporting Black lawyers 

Diversity profile of the solicitors profession

Annual Statistics Report

Maximise your Law Society membership with My LS