Platitudes vs. Progress: 3 Ways to Increase Diversity in the UK Legal Industry

Platitudes vs. Progress: 3 Ways to Increase Diversity in the UK Legal Industry 02/11/2020

As we all know, politicians and bureaucrats love words – they’re cheap, they sound nice, and most importantly, they don’t actually have to do anything. In the UK legal industry however, we’re a more practical bunch and we understand the importance of delivering tangible solutions to identifiable problems.

Right now, the legal industry faces the issue of diversity – there are uncomfortable disparities in the demographic makeup of law firms, not to mention differences in pay and promotion opportunities. According to the Solicitors Regulation Authority, despite making up 13% of the workforce in England, Scotland and Wales, BAME lawyers (those categorised as black, Asian, and minority ethnic) comprise only 8% of the largest law firms with 50 or more partners. For women, the problem is more centered on seniority – they make up 50% of firms with 50 or more partners, but only 29% of these partners are women.

With all of that in mind, here are 3 tangible ways businesses can increase diversity in the UK legal industry:

1. Push for organisational change.
Magic Circle firm Linklaters has been at the forefront in tackling racial disparities in the legal industry. The black diversity council they plan to establish will train their employees on anti-racism, but more importantly, make sure that partners and directors are accountable for having racially diverse teams. In order for it to be sustainable, any organisational change must start from the top and it is clear that Linklaters are not afraid to lead the way.

2. Set quantifiable objectives with strict deadlines.
In 2018, Allen & Overy set a goal to have 30% of their leadership positions be held by women. They managed to achieve that number in 2020 at the board level (30%) as well as for their risk committee (50%) and their executive committee (31%). For partnerships, they aimed to have 30% of partnership candidates be women by 2021, but they have already achieved this goal this year with women comprising 45% of their new partners.

By setting numerical benchmarks, A&O not only identified areas for improvement, but also managed to measure their progress with statistics. It is not enough to merely talk about increasing diversity without having clear goals to work towards and quantifiable results to show for it – any firm would do well to take a page out of A&O’s handbook.

3. Build up traditionally marginalised groups.

During The Economist’s General Counsel Insight Hour on 20 October, Simon Croxford from UBS made an excellent point to those that claim there just aren’t enough qualified candidates from traditionally marginalised groups: Let’s make sure that there are opportunities available for women and BAME individuals so that they can become more qualified. Let’s widen the pool of talent by providing them with more internships and opportunities for professional development.

This isn’t such an unusual idea – Linklaters are already planning on having a new mentorship programme for its black employees, offering a diversity scholarship for minority law students, and strengthening its ties to racial justice organisations. By investing in women and BAME communities, firms can expand their sources of potential talent and foster a new, more diverse generation of capable leaders in the legal field.

The UK legal industry has always been results-oriented and practical – so let’s brush away the platitudes and focus on generating tangible progress in increasing the industry’s diversity.

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