Diversity and compliance in law firms

Diversity in the professional service sector remains a key risk to law firms in particular. It was recently highlighted in the SRA Risk Outlook for 2018/2019 which  stated that law firms, solicitors and the public would benefit from a more diverse legal profession. However, this recent inclusion demonstrates that there is still work to be done to fully achieve diversity within the legal industry. For our blog this week, we’re discussing the key issues around diversity and compliance currently facing the legal sector and how firms can look to overcome them.

Diverse minority representation?
Despite being a hot topic on the professional agenda, often diversity is not something that firms consider in the first instance. Whether intentional or not, lack of diversity within firms can prove problematic for the industry as a whole. For example, in 2017, it was reported that while women make up 48% of all lawyers in law firms, in the largest firms, just 29% of partners are female, despite the fact that we’re reaching 100 years of women operating within the sector in 2019.

Representation is also low for the BAME community, making just 21% of lawyers while just 3% of lawyers in the industry would consider themselves to be disabled. Although these figures in themselves may prove concerning, they can also cause issues in terms of how the legal industry is perceived by the wider public, especially in terms of access to services and outcomes of the justice system.

The socio-economic factor
There also needs to be an increased focus on the backgrounds of those who enter the legal profession and how they progress. Research shows that those from lower socio-economic backgrounds are more likely to be higher performing in comparison to their peers. For example, amongst state school trainees, 14% receive the highest review ratings in comparison to 8% of independently schooled trainees. Also, 14% of first-generation university trainees receive high performance review ratings compared to 10% of their non-first-generation university peers. Yet surprisingly, those who are from state school backgrounds are less likely to be retained by their firm.

Focus on inclusion
Diversity appears to be a problem in the legal industry worldwide, with American states like California making female representation on public company boards mandatory. According to the American Lawyer, women made up just 19% of equity partners in law firms in 2017 compared to 16% a decade before. Here in the UK we also continue to face similar issues around inclusion which need to be addressed. For example, the Criminal Bar Association Diversity Report of 2017 revealed that 47% of the Bar, including pupils, went to private school compared to just 7% of the overall general population. This is a profession which was previously only accessible to the wealthy, but although the professional landscape has altered, there is still work to be done to ensure full inclusion and diversity as it continues to evolve. Therefore, firms should be working towards a heightened awareness and level of understanding which needs to be highlighted through effective training, helping to bring a wider perspective and introduce best-practice procedures for inclusion and diversity within firms. This will help to notably addressing any risks that your firm is currently facing.

At Altior, we believe that diversity should be a key focus for all firms. That’s why we have recently launched a range of diversity and compliance courses to help tackle these issues, with the programme available via our Live Online platform from October 29. For more information or to book your place on our inaugural course, contact us on 02920 451 000 or email us at:

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