Diversity has become an increasingly hot topic within the legal profession, with many law firms pledging to improve racial diversity amongst their lawyers. Data shows that ethnic minority representation within the legal profession is on the rise – albeit slowly. Through examining the number of Asian lawyers in England and Wales (the largest represented category of BAME solicitors) the efforts of law firms in championing diversity and inclusion within their workforce can be observed.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) reported that in 2019, the proportion of Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) lawyers working in law firms was 21%, with Asian lawyers making up 15% of those lawyers – a 6% rise since 2014.
Number of Asian solicitors on the Roll
The Law Society’s ‘Trends in the solicitors’ profession Annual Statistics Report 2018’ holds that there are 188,000 solicitors on the Roll with 14,247 of the solicitors identifying as Asian (excluding Chinese). Out of the 14,247 Asian solicitors on the Roll, 82% hold a practicing certificate, enabling them to act as a solicitor in England and Wales. Comparing 2018’s figures with that of the previous year, there has been a 2.8% increase in the number of Asian solicitors admitted to the Roll of solicitors since 2017.
Number of Asian solicitors in Private Practice
According to The Law Society’s Annual Statistics Report 2018, as of 31st July 2018, the total number of Asian (excluding Chinese) solicitors was 7,602 out of a total of 93,825 solicitors in private practice – a 0.6% increase from the previous year.
Out of 93,825 solicitors in private practice, 2.0% of solicitors of Asian descent were partners, 0.9% sole practitioners, 1.6% associates, 1.8% assistants, and 1.7% consisting of other positions within private practice.
By firm size:
Similarly, The Law Society reported as of 31st July 2018, that 4.7% of solicitors identifying as Asian (excluding Chinese) were sole owners or working within very small firms ranging from 2-4 partners. Small to medium-sized firms employing 5 to 25 partners saw 1.44% of solicitors employed of Asian descent while larger firms of 26 to 81+ partners consisted of around 1.9% of Asian solicitors.
These figures highlight that it is high street firms which allow for career progression to partner level for Asian solicitors, with Asian solicitors best represented in sole owned firms.
Number of Asian students accepted onto law courses
Table 1.0: The number of Asian students accepted onto first degree law courses at universities and colleges for the academic year 2018/19, and the total number of acceptances. (Figures by UCAS)
This table indicates that in the academic year 2018/19, approximately half of the BAME students who were accepted onto first degree law courses were of Asian origin and continue to be the most represented BAME group at undergraduate level as well as in practice.
The importance of diversity in law
In the current climate where race is at the forefront of public debate, a lack of ethnic representation can have severe negative consequences on businesses and professions. Firms and companies who strategize with diversity as a principal consideration understand and secure the many benefits that having a diverse workforce can bring.
Law firms are essentially a business and a lack of diversity can have a negative effect on a firm’s bottom line. Championing diversity and inclusion in law firms can massively increase a firm’s revenue, with many corporate clients demanding that law firms have adequate diversity statistics in order to win business. Examples are reflected through major corporations such as Facebook requiring outside counsel teams to comprise of 33% women and ethnic minorities. Thus, by law firms investing their effort into creating a more diverse workforce, this would increase their client-base resulting in a better bottom line and spurring economic growth.
By law firms strengthening their focus on diversity and inclusion, they create a dynamic pool of expertise and experience. An environment that embraces the differences in their workforce fosters the growth and talent of its employees through encouraging new ideas, innovative approaches to working and the ability to provide clients with the most desirable advice tailored to their circumstances. Such an environment would be unable to be achieved if there were homogeneity in thought and experience. This is because employing individuals from different ethnic backgrounds would provide consideration for various cultural practices and traditions that would otherwise be overlooked. Therefore, diversity within the legal profession would enable law firms to develop a comprehensive understanding of the world around them that can be used to facilitate positive results for their clients. Not only would greater diversity in firms be beneficial to clients, but BAME employees would be less likely to feel isolated and enjoy greater collegiality with their co-workers, leading to higher retention rates for the firm.
Through many law firms making the effort to champion racial diversity within their practices, reports of increasingly positive results have been noted. The SRA have reported that law firms who have signed up to the Law Society’s Diversity and Inclusion Charter have strengthened their practice in different ways, namely by winning businesses through showing their commitment to diversity, preventing costly discrimination claims by identifying problems early, and identifying barriers that prevent the development of available talent.
Therefore, it can be seen that the benefits of diversity in law firms are obvious and law firms – through focusing on improving diversity within their workplace – will only benefit in an increasingly competitive legal market.