That heading of this article sounds shocking, right? Well, I’m afraid that is the truth. According to the SRA’s published statistics, there is a disparity between Black and minority ethnic (BAME) lawyers and their white counterparts, with BAME lawyers accounting for 21% of the profession. Within that proportion, Black lawyers only account for 3% compared to Asians making up 15%.
You might ask why these figures are quite low when equality and diversity are one of the main principles underpinning the duties of the SRA. The body is responsible for ensuring that equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) remains a top priority and that it is infused into the legal organisations that the SRA regulates. So why are the numbers so low? It seems that the lack of diversity varies between legal organisations themselves – this can be associated with their various structural differences. For example, larger law firms with over 50 partners have a significantly low representation of Black and Asian lawyers, with a mere 8% of partners deriving from a BAME background. This shocking statement highlights the lack of progression that BAME lawyers face in the profession. This is in contrast to smaller and one-partner firms where the number of BAME partners rises to 36%.
The big difference between the organisational structures really have to be questioned. Are law firms doing the best they can to promote diversity within their organisations? Or is this just a façade? It is evident that law firms engage in incentives to support and uphold a diverse workforce, such as improving the representation of women and increasing support for lawyers in the LGBT+ community. The figures for female lawyers in medium-sized to large firms are around 50%, whilst the figures for female partners in these firms are around 34% , showing a real progressive approach towards equality. It would appear that diversity is taking place on the gender scale, in contrast to the devastating lack of progression for diversity in ethnicity, with BAME partners only accounting for 8% in those same-sized firms.
How can these figures be improved?
The law society publishes an annual toolkit designed to help legal organisations improve and promote diversity, particularly with supporting those from BAME backgrounds, starting from the recruitment process to the employment stage. The various methods include hosting engaging events (such as introducing diversity workshops where barriers surrounding race and ethnicity are discussed in a free and open environment) and inviting opinions and experiences from BAME lawyers.
Firms could also engage in Black History Month quizzes and use this as an opportunity to raise money for BAME charities and social enterprises. Other methods include providing supportive network systems for BAME employees such as mentoring programmes, and creating BAME staff forums, intended for staff to discuss and raise issues as well as organising social events. I believe that with these incentives constantly taking place and law firms actively seeking methods to create a more culturally diverse workforce, the figures may start to increase and structural changes will start to take place.
As a young aspiring female Black lawyer in the making, the statistics continue to astound me and I believe there needs to be more done to enable a more diverse profession. Diversity can lead to an effective workforce, and can build and promote acceptance and tolerance for different people. It has the ability to enhance a wider client base due to a larger representation of people and can also foster healthy relationships and ultimately promote an equilibrium in society.
As Martin Luther King once said:
‘All should not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character’.