In 2011, only The Law Society (TLS), the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), and the Bar Standards Board (BSB) collected and published data on diversity of their members and regulated community respectively. As the SRA regulate entities in addition to individuals, other authorised persons are captured in their data collection on diversity but this data is not published or analysed on a systematic basis. In 2009/10, around 40% of fee earners in firms regulated by the SRA were not solicitors. The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) published a survey of the diversity of its membership as at 2008.

A number of the regulators do not collate information on the demographics of their regulated communities. This results in a lack of awareness accross the market, resulting in diversity barriers not being identified, and, therefore, not addressed. The CLC and the Master of Faculties (MoF) only collect data on member’s gender and age. The Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys (ITMA) and the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys (CIPA) collect data on the university attended, qualification gained and gender. In 2010 there was no evidence gathered on socioeconomic background, disability and race of these professions, nor is summary analysis of diversity data published.

The proportion of Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) solicitors compared to the population is shown below. This also shows different groupings of solicitors, showing the proportion of solicitors as a whole, those working in private practice, those who are partners as a proxy measure for business owners, and for those at entry points into the profession. Plotted alongside this is the trend for changes in the BME population of England and Wales.

Diversity data for the population of England and Wales is used as a comparator in the absence of the diversity of information on the client base served. This is baselined against 2005/06 because of data lags in this area. The second chart shows the same information for barristers with Queen’s Counsel (QC) representing the most senior level. The other charts show the proportion of female solicitors and barristers respectively.

For both solicitors and barristers, there are large differences in diversity when looking at different stages of a legal career. Entry-level indicators such as students on a Legal Practice Course or the Bar Professional Training Course show a strong similarity to the diversity of the population of England and Wales. While there have been changes in overall diversity statistics for solicitors and barristers in the past, available information shows significant differences in entry-level diversity, but career progression challenges remain.

Diversity and turnover

Utilising the 2010 SRA turnover data, LSB analysis compared the size and profitability of solicitors legal practices along diversity lines.

Looking specifically at ethnicity, we can use this data to compare the turnover of solicitors legal practices between:

  • BME firms – more than 50% of all solicitors are of BME ethnic origin.
  • White firms – 50% or more are White of all solicitors are of white ethnic origin

These definitions are used only because of the format in which the data is available. The RIR found no published data on the ethnicity of owners at individual firms, that can be linked to turnover. Equally the RIR found no data on the ethnicity of the client groups served. These alternative measures would be preferred, but data availability drives us to use fee earners.

Of the 9,156 firms in the data set, 1,123 (12%) have more than 50% BME fee earners. In this data 20% of all solicitors are from BME groups. Law Society research showing that 10.3% of all solicitors working legal practices are from BME groups. In 2010, a higher proportion of BME solicitors tended to be associated with a lower level of average turnover. However this is partly a function of size. A larger proportion of BME solicitor legal practices are sole practitioners, who as a group tend to have lower levels of turnover. Note that there is only one BME firm with more than 10 partners, and therefore they have been removed from the turnover chart to ensure anonymity.

In terms of categories of work undertaken, there is a difference between the two groups. A greater proportion of BME firms undertake work in immigration, crime, and family compared to white firms. When proportion of turnover is considered, the differences between the two groups becomes greater. While a similar proportion within each group undertake Other work, white firms derive a far greater proportion of turnover from this category than BME firms – 20% compared to 10%. In terms of legal aid, often associated with lower levels of turnover,11% of white firms undertake some legal aid work, while 31% of BME firms do. Furthermore 23% of all BME firms derive more than 50% of their income from legal aid compared to just 7% of white firms. These observations could be a function of the size of firms, driving a lower level of turnover but they are broadly consistent with the general findings of other research into diversity in the legal profession.

 An analysis along gender lines, suggests far less difference between firms with more than 50% female solicitors and those with 50% or more male solicitors. 39% of the firms in this data set have more than 50% female solicitors. The significant difference is around far higher levels of turnover being generated by male firms in finance and business even through a similar proportion of female and male firms undertake work in this category

In terms of legal aid, 57% of male firms undertake some legal aid work, compared to just 34% of female firms. However 18% of all female firms derive more than 50% of their income from legal aid compared to just 8% of male firms.

The RIR found limited published information on barrister earnings generally, but some in relation to diversity. In 2010 the chairman of the Bar Council highlighted the changing diversity of the Bar: “In terms of gender in the self-employed Bar there were 8,381 men and 3,800 women at the end of 2009. Interestingly, in terms of relative percentages women were better represented in the Provinces (1,465/2,996 i.e. circa 50%) than in London (2,387/5,371 i.e. circa 44%). A statistic that is also indicative of the changing gender balance of the Bar is that in 2009, 921 women and 851 men were called to the Bar i.e. 53% of those called were female. 23% of pupillages are being taken up by people from Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) backgrounds, which is a higher proportion of inclusion than in the general population.” However other research found significant difference in earnings by diversity.

A survey undertaken in 2007 that achieved a 35% response rate from the self‐employed Bar, showed that female barristers in comparison to male barristers are disproportionately junior and that area of specialisation is strongly related to both gender and ethnicity. The research reports on marked differentials in income by gender and ethnicity, with 21% of white men billing less than £80,000, whereas 39% of BME men do so, 44% of white women, and more than half, 54%, of BME women. Women are also more likely to be billing between £80,000 and £125,000 than men. Over 80% of BME women bill less than £125,000 compared with 43% of white men. The report found that in crime for those over 10 years call – more than 85% of white and BME women over 10 years call bill less than £125,000 compared with 55% of white men and 44% of BME men. In Civil differences are significant for both call groups . Among those 0 – 10 years call, 30% of white men billed more than £125,000 compared with between 12% and 20% for other groups: “These differences are accentuated for those over 10 years call, where 81% of white men bill more than £125,000, compared with 62% of BME men, 67% of white women, and 38% of BME women”. For family work, the research found no significant differences by gender or ethnicity under 10 years call, but did for over 10 years call – “Forty‐six% of white men and 44% of BME men over ten years call bill more than £125,000 compared with 28% of white women and 18% of BME women.” Other research has found that women are disproportionately likely to leave the Bar.

More recent research by the Bar Standards Board shows for self-employed barristers there are very different demographic profiles across different categories of work, with BME and female barristers working in areas associated with public funding. Twice as many women work in family as in any other practice. BME barristers are most likely to work in civil law (14%) and family (10%). Publically funded work dominates crime (87%) and family (58%). The larger proportion of BME and female barristers in these areas is similar to the situation with diversity and solicitors turnover. LSB analysis of SRA data suggests that a greater proportion of BME firms undertake work in immigration, crime, and family compared to non-BME firms. Furthermore, 23% of all BME firms derive more than 50% of their income from public funding compared to just 7% of non-BME firms.

However, 2011 data published in The Bar Barometer reports that the proportion of BME barristers after five years call is lower than after 15 years call – 7.7% compared 8.8% - suggesting better rates of retention. For female barristers high entry levels of female bar have not translated into better gender diversity at senior levels – post 12 years. The report stresses that this is strongly correlated with other factors such as accessibility of childcare.

Looking accross the professions, in 2010 a study found that stereotyping and (perceived) bias act as barriers for women and BME lawyers from furthering their careers. Inequalities in pay and status are among factors causing them to abandon their careers in disproportionately high numbers.