Diversity and Inclusion

Promoting diversity and inclusion are at the heart of what we do. It is vital that everyone who needs legal services can access them regardless of their background, and that the profession reflects the society it serves at both entry and senior levels.

Within the bounds of our responsibilities, we strive to influence and shape how approved regulators and legal service providers address diversity and inclusion.

In addition to integrating diversity and inclusion into our work and our organisation’s culture, we have statutory obligations under the Equality Act 2010.

As a public authority, we must comply with the public sector equality, which requires us to have due regard to the need to:
  • Eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation.
  • Advance equality of opportunity between people who share protected characteristics (age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, or sexual orientation).
  • Foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not.
  • Our diversity and inclusion work programme includes a range of projects with equality and diversity at their core and which help us to fulfil our equality duty.

Diversity and inclusion in the legal services sector today

Our State of Legal Service 2020 report reflects on ten years of independent regulation, and it concludes that progress in improving diversity and inclusion in the legal services sector has been slow. In particular, the pace of progress in closing attainment gaps at senior levels of the profession has been too slow. Everyone across the sector needs to work together to ensure that the profession reflects the diversity of the communities it serves, at all levels.

There have been some successes. The year 2019 marked one hundred years of women working in the law, but also the milestone of there being more female than male solicitors for the first time. Compared to the UK workforce average, there are higher proportions of BAME lawyers in most professional groups, while there is parity of both black solicitors and barristers on this basis. There are more LGBTQ+ lawyers than the UK population average. Some professional groups have particularly strong records on specific protected characteristics: three-quarters of legal executives and licensed conveyancers are female, while three in ten costs lawyers are from BAME backgrounds.

However, some groups are less well represented. The proportion of disabled lawyers appears to be well below the UK workforce average. A study by Cardiff University found that lawyers with disabilities face daily discrimination because of ignorance and unconscious bias as well as blatant prejudice. There is a substantial over-representation of lawyers who were privately educated – 40% of UK educated notaries, 37% of barristers and 21% of solicitors attended fee-paying schools. This compares to the UK population average of 7%, although it is on a slightly downward trend.

Encouraging and promoting a diverse workforce

The LSB and the approved regulators and regulatory bodies must meet the regulatory objective – To encourage an independent, strong, diverse and effective legal profession. A diverse population of consumers and users of legal services requires a diverse legal profession.

The legal profession should reflect the communities that it serves more closely. The LSB’s research has identified significant challenges facing the legal sector. Based on our findings, we will be exploring with the regulatory bodies how to evaluate diversity initiatives better and share learning points.

The current LSB statutory guidance published in 2017 has four outcomes and requires the regulatory bodies to establish the most effective ways to comply with the guidance.

The four outcomes are:
  1. The regulator continues to build a clear and thorough understanding of the diversity profile of its regulated community (beginning at entry), how this changes over time and where greater diversity in the workforce needs to be encouraged.
  2. The regulator uses data, evidence and intelligence about the diversity of the workforce to inform development of, and evaluate the effectiveness of, its regulatory arrangements, operational processes and other activities.
  3. The regulator collaborates with others to encourage a diverse workforce, including sharing good practice, data collection and other relevant activities.
  4. The regulator accounts to its stakeholders for its understanding, its achievements and plans to encourage a diverse workforce.

In 2020, the LSB set out that within the current outcome framework, what good regulatory performance looks like on equality matters.

Regulatory bodies should have:
  1. An understanding of the composition of their regulated community
  2. An understanding of the barriers to entry and progression within the regulated community, and a programme of activity to mitigate those barriers with measures in place to evaluate effectiveness; and
  3. Measures in place to understand any differential impact on protected characteristics within their disciplinary/enforcement procedures.