In the past few weeks, the topics of systemic racism, police misconduct, and justice reform have all been at the forefront of social discussion—and rightly so.
George Floyd’s death has caused outrage around the world and exposed injustice and inequality. People around the world have been showing their support for the Black Lives Matter movement with gatherings and outpourings of shared experiences and support for the calls for change that are taking place in the US and beyond.
What has happened has mobilised people, from all backgrounds, to speak out against injustice and inequality and to call for further review and action on justice reform to ensure equality before the law for all.
As well as expressing sadness and sympathy it is vital that we use this difficult time to reflect on the actions we must all take to tackle discrimination, as individuals, firms, businesses and communities.
The Law Society and the solicitors’ profession strive to ensure access to justice, equality for all under the legal system and to promote the rule of law. Racism and all forms of discrimination and prejudice have no place in our justice system – or in any other aspect of society.
Diversity of the profession
It is a constant privilege to work in a profession that is strong, dynamic and inclusive, such as ours.
The profession must reflect the society it serves and although progress has been made, there is still more to be done to remove barriers, open doors and confront unacceptable behaviour.
A recent Law Society member survey found that 52% of solicitors were female, 16% of solicitors were from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, 5% were LGBT+, and 16% reported a long-term physical or mental health condition or illness.
We have seen increases in the number of Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) and female solicitors but there is still under-representation at senior levels.
Understanding the barriers for BAME solicitors
The Law Society is in the process of conducting research into the experience of our BAME members to understand barriers that exist.
This research will provide insight into the challenges faced by BAME members of the profession and the steps that need to be taken to overcome these challenges and continue to create a more diverse and inclusive legal profession.
For change to take root in the profession, individuals, firms and legal businesses must lead from the top and feel comfortable having discussions about race and how to create a more inclusive working environment.
Improving diversity in the profession
It is essential that our profession reflects the communities we serve, and that we ensure talented individuals are able to progress in this sector whatever their background.
Determination, skill and ability must be the decisive factors for entry to the profession, not race, religion, gender or any other starting point in life.
We look to ensure that law firms are good employers - recruiting on merit and offering training and development opportunities to all employees regardless of background.
We work to help the legal profession to be inclusive through:
Our Diversity Access Scheme supports and funds people from lower socio-economic backgrounds who want to join the profession.
Our Diversity & Inclusion Charter for members who want to publicly commit to promote the values of diversity and inclusion throughout their business.
Our Social Mobility Ambassadors share experiences and practical information to support entrants to the profession from diverse backgrounds.
Creating opportunities where members have access to role models and networking through the BAME speed networking events.
Running complimentary Becoming a Judge workshops for BAME solicitors, giving this under-represented group practical advice on completing the application form and interview practice.
Our ethnic minority lawyers division committee helps us to shape our race diversity strategy with its engagement programme with local law societies, universities and firms raised awareness of race inequality.
Creating guides and toolkits to support members such as BAME Inclusivity in the Workplace.
Improving the diversity and inclusiveness of the legal profession is both a moral and a business imperative.
The profession has made important steps in the right direction but for real change to take root, businesses, individuals and firms across the country must put the right policies in place and work together to build a more diverse workplace for the next generation.
We are working to ensure increased representation at all levels of the profession regardless of ethnicity. We also need to continue to work to remove the gender and ethnicity pay gap to allow equal pay for equal work.
Diversity must be placed at the heart of all business decisions and pushed up to the most senior levels of the profession - especially partner level and any decision-making bodies. Clients must be encouraged to hold firms, businesses and individuals accountable if they do not feel they reflect the diversity of the society they represent.
We will continue to promote diversity and inclusion in the legal profession, combat any instances of racism or prejudice in the sector and stand together against injustice.