LSB proposes diversity transparency increase
The Legal Services Board (LSB) has announced proposals that would see all law firms and barristers chambers in England and Wales gathering and publishing data about the diversity of their workforce – encompassing all personnel from partners to support staff and all levels between. Existing data and research illustrates that there are still significant barriers to progression and retention for practitioners, and diminishing representation for lawyers from non-traditional backgrounds at the highest levels of the profession. For example, just 25% of partners in solicitors firms are women and 3.5% of partners in the top 150 firms are black or minority ethnic.
The proposals come as part of the LSB’s focus on increasing the diversity of the legal services workforce and ensuring the legal profession is open to prospective lawyers from non-traditional backgrounds. The promotion of a diverse legal profession is a major strand of the modernisation programme for legal services enacted by Parliament through the Legal Services Act 2007 – the most wide-ranging set of reforms for legal services across England and Wales for decades. The proposals for increased transparency, alongside other measures, have been released for consultation today.
The starting point for the LSB is that the data should encompass all of the characteristics relevant to the new public sector equality duty (age, race, disability, religion or belief, gender reassignment, sex, pregnancy and maternity and sexual orientation), plus socio-economic background. It will remain voluntary for individuals to respond to the diversity questions. Legal services providers will simply be required to publish the anonymised results of their diversity surveys (even if there is no response or the response is “prefer not to say”) and report it to their regulator. This will create competitive pressure among providers to take action to increase diversity and attract the best talent, and will also enable the regulators in the sector to get a clearer picture of levels of diversity in the workforce. Over time, changes and trends will also enable the regulators to assess the impact of initiatives designed to widen access and improve retention and progression of lawyers from non-traditional backgrounds.